Microsoft Takes Media Center PCs To More Countries - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Takes Media Center PCs To More Countries

It will offer the high-end home entertainment appliance in five more countries by year's end.

Microsoft said Wednesday it is working with hardware vendors to offer Media Center PCs in five more countries later this year, demonstrating that initial sales of the home entertainment appliance have been at least adequate for the software vendor.

Media Center is a hybrid of Windows XP that has an extra interface to view photos and video on televisions, as well as play digital music files. The high-end system is meant to nudge consumers into buying more-expensive PCs that can become the entertainment hub of their living rooms.

Microsoft is expanding its Media Center distribution to China, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The computers are currently sold in Canada, the United States, and Korea. Last October, Hewlett-Packard became the first computer maker to sell a Media Center PC.

Taking the software to other countries is relatively inexpensive for Microsoft. Nevertheless, the fact that the company is moving ahead only 10 months after the initial hardware launch shows it's happy with Media Center sales.

"They can extend the market for fairly short money," said Roger Kay, an analyst at International Data Corp. "It makes eminent sense, based on a good-enough reception in the pilot countries to justify the rollout."

Microsoft has refused to say how many Media Center machines it has sold.

However, Kay estimates that sales of Media Center PCs have been in the high tens of thousands, which doesn't set any records for new products but is certainly respectable. "The question is: Is this a slam dunk, a home run, yet? I think it's a little too early to say," Kay said. "Digital entertainment is still in its incipient stages."

Media Center PCs represent some of the first digital devices meant to lure consumers away from their older analog entertainment systems. Like most new high-tech products, the appliances are expensive and haven't reached the levels of performance and ease of use as more traditional systems.

"The hardware, and certainly not the infrastructure, is still not quite up to handling digital streaming video and other entertainment-type content at a level that will make these devices a must have for every home," Kay said. "But that's coming."

Among the hardware vendors Microsoft has lined up in each new country are HP, Packard Bell, and Toshiba in France, Germany and United Kingdom; Fujitsu, Hitachi, and Toshiba in Japan; and HP and Toshiba in China.

HP and Gateway sell Media Center PCs for $1,349.99 and $1,499.99, respectively. Both are considerably higher than the average PC, which is less than $1,000. Alienware, Samsung, and Toshiba also sell the Media Center PCs.

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