HP: "Let Us Entertain You"

Michael Brown

HP bought VoodooPC to gain street cred with gamers, but I thought the company had gotten out of the media-center PC business. Imagine my surprise when I heard the topic of John Orcutt’s keynote speech at the Connections Digital Living Conference earlier this month would be titled “The Connected Entertainment Ecosystem.”

Orcutt , vice president of HP’s Managed Home Business, quoted market data from conference-sponsor Parks Associates that predict 60 million U.S. households will have broadband Internet access by the end of 2007, and that 30 million homes will have a data network of one form or another by 2010. He went on to say that “the long-awaited marriage between the TV and the PC is finally here,” that “conditions are right for the growth of connected TVs,” and that “HP is committed to providing a fresh approach using an ultra-simple and compelling user interface and a robust set of services and sophisticated design and integration.”

You can guess the first question that came out of my mouth when I interviewed him afterwards.

Maximum PC: If HP is so interested in the digital entertainment market, why did the company exit the media-center PC market?

John Orcutt: We never got out of the media-center PC market. We did discontinue our Digital Entertainment Center or DEC line. And we did that because the PC doesn’t have to be in the living room anymore. It doesn’t necessarily have to look a consumer-electronics device, either. The PC can be anywhere in the home and still deliver a great entertainment experience.

Max PC: Ah, now I see the distinction. You mentioned in your keynote speech that HP thinks most houses will have a central server for their media, but that the TV will serve as the gateway both the Internet and to consumers’ digital photos, videos, and music. I don’t think that’s how it works for most people today.

Orcutt: We think almost every home will eventually have a server of one kind or another. Early on, most of these will look like conventional PCs. A few will be headless servers [computers without video monitors]. But the market for headless servers, like our HP MediaSmart Server, will grow as time goes on.

Max PC : The Media Smart Server will use Microsoft’s Windows Home Server, right?

Orcutt: That’s right. The Media Smart Server is a high-capacity sharing and storage device; it’s not designed to be a PC that you’d sit in front of and use.

Max PC: The biggest problem I have with the PC being at the center of my home-entertainment is that it’s too difficult to integrate it with cable and satellite TV set-top boxes. ATI announced its OCUR solution more than a year ago, and it’s only just now arriving on the market. But you can’t install it in your home-brew PC, and it doesn’t work with satellite systems.

Orcutt : So, if you could get video from your set-top box to a media server, you’d be satisfied?

Max PC: Basically. I mean, most set-top boxes have pretty good DVRs built into them, but there’s no way to distribute that video throughout the house.

Orcutt : Sounds like a good opportunity. [grins]

Max PC: So, this is something HP is working on?

Orcutt: I’m not going to comment on that. [grins again]

Max PC: Okay... So if you’re going to have a central server in your house, is it also going to provide home-automation features? You’ve got the horsepower, and there’s a ton of new home-automation products coming onto the market right now. Why not incorporate home monitoring , lighting control , and security , too?

Orcutt: Entertainment is the big motivator today. Home control, home automation is a pretty constrained market right now; that industry has a lot of issues to address. That’s not to say it’s not something we’re interested in. But for now, we’re focusing our effort on providing a centralized media and entertainment system.

Max PC : Well, we certainly look forward to reviewing the Media Smart Server. When do you expect it to ship?

Orcutt : It should be available this fall.

MediaSmart Server Specs

HP’s MediaSmart Server will be a headless server running Microsoft’s Windows Home Server software (gee, I wonder why they’re not calling it Vista Home Server?). HP’s preliminary spec sheet indicates that it will use an AMD 1.8GHz Sempron processor and support up to 10 user accounts (plus one guest account limited to file or printer sharing) on up to a gigabit wired Ethernet network. If you want wireless, you'll have to add your own router.

The box has four internal SATA hard drive bays and four USB 2.0 ports, but HP says the device’s maximum storage capacity is limited only by the number of drive bays and USB ports. In reality, however, you probably wouldn’t want to consume all the USB ports with storage devices, because that would prevent you from connecting a printer, scanner, or other types of devices you’d want to share on the network.

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