If you need evidence that the much-predicted convergence of computers and consumer electronics may finally be upon us, consider this: PC heavyweights Compaq and Hewlett-Packard's latest devices compete head-to-head--for a place in your stereo system. HP announced its Digital Entertainment Center last week, and this week Compaq unveiled its similar IPaq Music Center at PC Expo/TECHXNY here.
Like the HP product, Compaq's device is an MP3 jukebox that also receives Internet radio. With a $US800 price tag, it's slated to hit store shelves in mid-July--beating HP's unit, which isn't expected until the fall.
The slick black IPaq Music Center is designed to sit in a stack of stereo components along with your receiver, tape deck, and other audio equipment. It also has a built-in modem and connects to a TV for video output. The unit has a CD player; stick in a music CD, and the Music Center identifies its tracks (via the Internet's CDDB music database), catalogues them, and stores them as MP3 files on its internal hard drive. The drive can store tracks for approximately 400 CDs (5000 tracks) according to Compaq.
The TV display and a button-laden remote control let you navigate and organise your music collection by artist or genre. A jack on the unit's front panel lets you download MP3 tracks to one of Compaq's portable MP3 players.
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The unit can also play streaming Internet radio stations, either over a standard dial-up line or--thanks to built-in HomePNA networking--over a broadband connection. However, it isn't compatible with the newer wireless home networks that use the 802.11b standard.
Audio buffs who buy the Music Center will also be able to use it to buy music from an online store, although Compaq says that e-commerce won't be a major focus of the product.
One significant difference between Compaq's product and HP's similar device is that Compaq doesn't include a built-in CD-R that lets you burn custom CDs. However, the Compaq may be cheaper--HP has said only that its Digital Entertainment Center will be priced under $US1000.
Of course, even $US800 is a big investment for most families. But unlike some convergence devices (such as the TiVo personal video recorder), Compaq's Music Center doesn't make you pay a monthly service fee. You can dial up your existing ISP account through its modem.
Compaq and HP aren't the first companies to ship MP3 components of this sort. Similar machines have been available for a while from smaller vendors such as AudioRamp and Request Multimedia. Also, some add-on products help bring digital music to your stereo. Still, the computing behemoths' entry into the market could help popularise these devices, or at least test whether mainstream America is ready for MP3s in the living room.