Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard will unveil concept devices running Windows XP that could replace a consumer's video recorder, CD player, answering machine and telephone.
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At the hub of the Windows Home Concept which was unveiled at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) is the Home Centre PC, which looks more like a video recorder than a PC. Unlike today's Windows systems, the device can turn on and off instantly and operate silently. There is no need for a mouse or keyboard, the only controller needed is an intelligent remote control that features a colour screen, fingerprint reader, microphone and speaker.
The Windows Home Concept is an evolution of Windows XP Media Centre edition, said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft.
"The improvements in Windows combined with new hardware will enable devices that we will be happy to put in our living room," Sullivan said.
Media Centre PCs allow users to use a remote control to provide access via TV to photos, video and music stored on their PC, as well as selected internet services such as movie downloads.
Through the fingerprint reader on the remote, the Home Centre PC will show an individual user's favourite TV shows and computer games automatically and the screen on the remote will allow a user to select shows for recording, even while the PC is running a game, for example.
When connected to a phone line, the Home Centre PC can display caller information on the TV when a call comes in. The user can then decide to take the call, with the remote acting as a speaker phone, or have the PC answer the call. TV can be paused while a call is answered, using the system's digital video recording features.
The HP concept Home Center PC boasts features such as a DVD burner and a high-capacity hard disc drive, said Ameer Karim, director of worldwide product marketing at HP. It also has a display on the front, much like traditional consumer electronics devices.
"Think of this as replacing your DVD recorder, VCR, CD player, TiVo and potentially your AV receiver in the future," he said. "This is the PC turned into an entertainment device."
The Home Centre PC will also function as a wireless access point for other PCs in the home to access data and to share its broadband internet connection.
The Windows Home Concept also includes a Home Tablet PC that will come with a docking station and can synchronise with the Home Centre PC.
The vision for the Home Tablet PC is similar to that of the Smart Display, the wireless PC displays that Microsoft pulled the plug on in December, only a year after the first Smart Displays shipped.
"The Home Tablet PC is a more compelling scenario," said Sullivan. "There is a notion that the ability to take my content with me and it still be usable when I am away from my home network is an important feature."
"This is not a product announcement; it is a demonstration of a concept," he said. "Over the next 12 to 18 months you will see many of the technologies that we are showing here shipping in PCs. The full end-to-end scenario of the concept, we're thinking is kind of a 2006 scenario."
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service