CES: HP to sell Linux-based home media hub

HP later this year plans to start selling a home media hub based on the open-source Linux operating system, hoping the product will replace consumer electronics devices such as VCRs and DVD players in living rooms.

The device will be the industry's first high-definition television (HDTV) media hub and combines the capabilities of HDTV, a digital cable set-top box and a dual-tuner digital video recorder (DVR), HP said in a statement. On the media hub, users will be able to store and manage digital photos, music, TV and video.

The product, which has yet to be named and priced, will be marketed as a consumer electronics device, not a PC, and will come with a music information service for song titles, CD artwork and other information, an update service and an HP-designed electronic programming guide for recording of video, the company said.

The media hub, announced Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, is part of HP's plans to gain a bigger share of the home entertainment market. In addition to the hub, HP's plans for 2005 include the introduction of 17 new HDTVs and home theater projectors, it said.

With the media hub, HP is taking on DVR specialist Tivo and traditional consumer electronics makers such as Sony. The new product also offers many of the features of Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, which HP also sells.

Moreover, HP is a key partner for Microsoft in its efforts to make the PC the media and entertainment hub for the home. HP has been selling PCs with Windows XP Media Center since the launch of the product in 2002. At CES this year, HP will also show Media Center Edition products, the company said.

It is not the first time that HP has broken ranks with Microsoft. At last year's CES, HP announced it would sell its own iPod music player, under an agreement with Apple.

The HP media hub won't have the functionality of a traditional PC, which Media Center PCs do have. The hub also won't have a keyboard, but will be controlled via a remote control. It can, however, be networked to access media stored on home computers and offers features that let users create their own slide shows combining personal digital photos and videos with music, according to HP.

"The Media Center PC is designed for those people who are pretty comfortable with the PC environment and want that in their living room," said HP spokeswoman Pat Kinley. "The media hub is designed for people who want more of a traditional living room experience and want to move into the digital world."

While HP is offering a lot of different options to consumers, that wide variety of products has the potential to confuse users and poses other challenges, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research in New York.

"In addition to selling Media Center PCs, HP is now also going to sell this Linux-based device and they are also supporting Apple's technology via iPod and iTunes. They are going to have to make this all work together," he said. "Also, how they are going to explain all this to consumers and articulate their message? This is complicated if you're centered on just one set of technologies. Combining all of this in an articulated vision has the potential to be very confusing."

HP's Kinley said that the company's goal was to make all the products work together, although she had no additional details on how HP would achieve that goal.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is slated to deliver his view of the consumer electronics space in a keynote speech at CES Wednesday night. HP Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina is scheduled to address the CES audience on Friday.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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