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-- by Jim Forbes
The PC is making a transition from office machine to sophisticated info-appliance, a makeover that is updating its appearance and technology.
The Toshiba Infinia makes its mark here, as one of the newest personal media centers. Aimed primarily at sophisticated repeat personal computer buyers, these machines combine powerful CPUs with hot telephony, video and sound components.
"High-performance multimedia computers and entertainment PCs will be the next big wave in personal computing," predicts Bruce Stephen, a vice president with market researcher International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. "And the market for these systems-like Gateway's Destination-are experienced PC buyers now on their third, or even fourth, system."
Gateway 2000's Destination (see Reviews, April 1996) seems to have started the trend. This machine includes a wireless keyboard, high-performance Pentium system, high-performance wavetable sound subsystem with freestanding floor speakers, integrated television tuner with cable connector and 28.8Kbps modem. It drives a 31-inch television screen instead of a computer monitor. Priced at around $5,000 for a 200MHz model, the Destination is designed for use in a living room or boardroom.
Not a strong seller so far, Gateway's Destination system and the people who buy it have been scrutinized by other PC vendors. Acer, Compaq, NEC/Packard Bell and now Toshiba have joined Gateway 2000 in marketing these high-end multimedia computers. The market for high-end multimedia systems is particularly compelling to PC makers, since they get better margins on those systems than on less expensive mass-market computers.
These companies will likely move to Intel's MMX Pentium multimedia processor, adding a new generation of video/television controllers to the mix. As a second step, they'll work to incorporate Intel's new Intercast technology. This technology can pick up Web pages broadcast over television channels that contain live URL links to other locations on the World Wide Web. The machines will also come with Interconnect Internet service connections built in, which should make it easier for Web newcomers making first-time connections to ISPs.
"And, interestingly, the customers for these systems are the sort of people who buy their computers from companies such as Gateway and Dell, both of which tend to sell to experienced buyers," notes Bruce Ryon, principal multimedia analyst with market researcher Dataquest in San Jose, Calif.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.