Study: Consumers Are Ready For PC-Based Entertainment Centers

A Jupiter Research survey says the trend toward the computer as digital entertainment hub is likely to continue.
More than half of online consumers would record programs and movies on their PCs if they could play back the content on a standard television, a market-research firm said Tuesday.

The finding of a consumer poll by Jupiter Research is good news for Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, which Jupiter expects to become the standard operating system for midlevel PCs and some desktop replacement notebooks over the next 12 to 18 months.

Based on the July online poll, Jupiter found 51% of consumers willing to record content on their PCs for playback on their TVs. But only 34% were willing to download TV content to watch on their desktops.

PC makers have already made significant strides toward positioning the desktop as an entertainment hub by including software for storing and viewing digital photographs and music, which are growing in popularity among consumers, Jupiter said. Providing software continues to make PCs as easy to use for entertainment as traditional consumer electronics, then the trend toward the computer as digital entertainment hub will continue.

"We're going to increasingly see the PC play a predominant role as consumer electronics become more digital," Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg said. "If the PC is the repository for my music, for my pictures, for my recorded TV shows, that's a tremendous opportunity (for PC makers) and for companies selling services."

Manufacturers of set-top boxes, such as TiVo, and video-game consoles are also adding features that could eventually lead to the hardware competing with PCs as an entertainment hub. However, both potential competitors lack many of the PC's current capabilities, such as photo storage and viewing and music libraries.

Apple Computer has been pushing the idea of the Macintosh becoming a digital entertainment hub for some time, Gartenberg said. However, Apple has taken a different approach with the Mac. "They're focused more on someone working with content creation," Gartenberg said.

Apple's software is geared toward creating home movies and building music libraries through its iTunes service. Thus far, Apple hasn't positioned the Mac as a recording device for TV content like Media Center and lacks the latter's remote-control features, which means consumers can access music, movies, and programming from their couch.

Nevertheless, the battle for the living room is not over, and PC makers could stumble. With the latest version of Media Center, unveiled Tuesday, Microsoft has made the PC 50% computer and 50% consumer electronics, Gartenberg said. Those percentages have to become 20% and 80%, respectively, for the PC to become successful.

"The consumer experience has to be on par with the experience from the best consumer electronics," Gartenberg said. The PC "has to respond quickly, it can't be buggy, and it can't crash."

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