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COMPUTING

From...
PC World

Home theater PC

Image

December 2, 1999
Web posted at: 8:58 a.m. EST (1358 GMT)

by Owen Linderholm

(IDG) -- The concept of a PC/home theater combo has been around for a few years, but the product itself has never really caught on. The Internet may add just the new wrinkle it needs.

Avatar Systems is pursuing the market with a combination PC/home theater system, the VBOX HTPC. It's available in configurations that start as low as $759 (even less, with rebates). This price is dramatically lower than you could get by combining separate components, according to Avatar.

Avatar is trying a new angle by making the VBOX ready for home networking and Internet access. With the included 10/100 Ethernet adapter, the unit can act as a server or workstation for a home network. Or you can connect it to a cable or DSL modem for high-speed Internet access.

The VBOX HTPC's several configurations vary in price, depending on the size of the hard drive and the speed of the Intel Celeron processor that powers the VBOX. All units come with a 5X DVD player, MP3 player, a five-speaker surround-sound system (one subwoofer and four satellites), a wireless keyboard, and a mouse. Graphics are handled by an Intel 810 chip set and include TV out capability via either RCA or S-Video jacks.

The idea is that you put this PC where your TV is and use it like a stereo system to play MP3 and CD music. You can operate it like a DVD movie player, or even like a PC, with an emphasis on Web surfing. The wireless keyboard and mouse act as remote controls in addition to their usual functions. Despite being designed for consumers, this is a very plain-looking PC that comes in a standard micro ATX case.

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Options and New Angles

Avatar also throws in a slew of software for this system. You get Corel WordPerfect Suite 8, Trend Desktop Diagnostic software, MP3 player and sound enhancement software, and a bundle of classic arcade games.

Avatar claims this is the first under-$800 system that lets you watch movies, download and listen to music, play video games, surf the Internet, and track your finances. The $759 price does not include a monitor, since the system is intended to hook up to a PC. The Celeron-400 system includes a 4.3GB hard drive, 64MB of memory, and a V.90 modem. You can pare the price to $359 through a $400 rebate if you sign up for three years of Internet access with Microsoft Network.

The VBOX HTPC's several configurations vary in price, depending on the size of the hard drive and the speed of the Intel Celeron processor that powers the VBOX. All units come with a 5X DVD player, MP3 player, a five-speaker surround-sound system (one subwoofer and four satellites), a wireless keyboard, and a mouse. Graphics are handled by an Intel 810 chip set and include TV out capability via either RCA or S-Video jacks.

The idea is that you put this PC where your TV is and use it like a stereo system to play MP3 and CD music. You can operate it like a DVD movie player, or even like a PC, with an emphasis on Web surfing. The wireless keyboard and mouse act as remote controls in addition to their usual functions. Despite being designed for consumers, this is a very plain-looking PC that comes in a standard micro ATX case.

Other available models are the $859 Celeron-433 version with a 6.4GB hard drive, and the $959 Celeron-466 system with a 8.4GB hard drive. Avatar will soon add the $1059 Celeron-500, which comes with a 10GB hard drive.

Other Home Theaters Near You

Gateway pioneered the PC/home theater category with its Destination PCs, which it offered in fits and starts for several years. The Destination had a high price tag and didn't really integrate the PC and TV portions of the device. Clearly, people wanted more than simply a big-screen TV that doubled as a monitor.

More recently, as DVD playback has become common, several companies have tried to marry the technologies. But very few manufacturers explicitly target the PC as a home theater device as well.

Avatar's approach takes advantage of the home networking trend and Internet functions, neither of which was strong in the market during earlier attempts. At the least, it adds some new and interesting elements to a combo that hasn't quite clicked (yet).


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