Digital future

With more tech developers working on making digital gadgets and systems accessible to every shopper, it shouldn’t be long before more living rooms are looking very 21st century.

Many technology aficionados have already wired their living rooms for gaming, computing, and movie downloads. But for those who can’t tell a motherboard from a video card, the digital entertainment revolution may be arriving a bit more slowly. According to HP, that should all be changing soon.

With more tech developers working on making digital gadgets and systems accessible to every shopper, it shouldn’t be long before more living rooms are looking very 21st century. We spoke with Tom Anderson, HP’s vice president of marketing for the company’s worldwide consumer PC business. His prognosis: Hold on to your couch, and get your remote ready.

What do you think is the largest trend in the technology industry right now?

I’d say that it’s entertainment. Media is being digitized. It started with photos and music, and it’s actually music that’s revolutionizing the electronic distribution system and the way consumers use digital entertainment. I think from that starting point, we’ll see video and other combinations of services and devices take advantage of computing power and broadband.

How is digital entertainment changing beyond just an introduction of new gadgets?

Right now, people are wiring their living rooms, but I think there’s also a shift toward mobility, and that’s new. You may want to have the power to access your PC from multiple rooms. Or you might want to take your digital video or your MP3s in the car with you. Instead of having CDs lying around, you digitize your music so that you can have your whole collection wherever you go. All of this offers tremendous flexibility.

You mentioned that the music distribution model will change video. How will that be?

There will be more of a move toward movie downloading. It’s similar to a subscription model for music, or what iTunes is doing. Once they work out the copyright issues, consumers will be able to download movies on a temporary basis or buy them outright. As broadband gets more aggressively deployed, and as people get more comfortable with the idea of getting movies through their computers, you’ll see this start to take off. There are some services doing it now, but there are issues to be worked out in terms of copyright and download capacity. Once this is a more streamlined process, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it move quickly into the mainstream.

What kind of barriers are you seeing to mass adoption of these technologies now?

We see some signs that forward-looking technologies are moving into being part of the mass market, but it’s still early for that. The goal of a PC manufacturer like HP is to make that experience both easy to use and easy to set up, as well as provide the features that people are interested in. Consumers don’t necessarily want PCs in multiple rooms, but they do want the entertainment that PCs can provide in different rooms. We’re trying to make that easier to do.

Also, as you start to see home networks being easier to set up, you’re seeing products becoming more geared toward mass market consumers rather than early adopters. When technology becomes easier to use and set up, then you’ll see fewer barriers to people bringing together TV, movies, music, photos, and other entertainment components into a computing environment.

As you’ve said, digital music is leading the way for other entertainment technologies. But there are several distribution formats going. What company do you think has the best one?

I think the best music store is iTunes. HP thinks so, too, which is why we did a deal with Apple. Personally, I think Apple has a knack for identifying features that matter to the largest number of consumers and implementing them in a straightforward, simple way. I think there are lots of examples of how the company does that, but the best ones are the iPod and iTunes. It may not offer the same features as some services, and not be as capable in some areas, but they’ve got a huge number of songs and it really is simple to use. They give the largest number of people exactly the features they want, without throwing in a lot of extra stuff they won’t use.

HP has just announced the launch of a gaming computer. How does the company plan to compete against such high-level market players as Alienware and Voodoo PC?

With our Compaq X series, we have something that will be similar to high-end gaming systems, but it will be priced more competitively. That’s because we can take the volume purchasing power that we have and come up with a very attractively prices product. We haven’t worked out the pricing yet, but I think we’ll have something compelling for gamers.

How will the gaming PCs differ from HP’s other machines?

We’ve designed it just for gamers, with a variety of features that they’ve asked for specifically. For example, you can open the case to add components easily. Also, we’re going to provide all the documents by the manufacturers that we use. Usually, if you buy a computer, you just get the manual for the computer. But gamers want the manual for the video card, and the motherboard, and other components, so we’re including all that.

We’ve also found that gamers tend to like much less software on their computers so that it runs faster. So, we’ve put on an operating system, a virus checker, and a couple of other things, and that’s it. It’s pretty stripped down. And finally, we’re going to allow customers to configure their own machines if they want. They can order from a retailer or from HPshopping.com, and tell them what they need to tailor the machine.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the trends that are coming up in the near future? What will this year’s holiday season look like?

I expect to see more people move the PC into the living room. Some people have done that with the Media Center PC, but I think that manufacturers are going to be concentrating on this area more closely. For example, many people are working on a PC with a horizontal form factor, so it will fit in a stereo rack just like a receiver or a VCR. We also expect to see more wireless keyboards and for HP, we expect that our digital media receiver will get more attention. Basically, for the holidays, I think you’ll see the entire digital entertainment experience move from the office and into the living room.

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