PC Or CE?

Maybe it's only fair: Consumer electronics giants like Sony have been selling personal computers lately, so computer manufacturer Compaq announced last week that it will begin selling audio products. Joining Intel in making the transition from the computer industry to consumer electronics, Compaq has now redefined itself as "a global enterprise technology and solutions company."

In the increasingly digital audio world, where new products have operating systems and hard drives, it's not surprising that a computer company finds itself in the right place to create and market CE products. But Compaq is running heavy with the hype, claiming that it will "re-invent the consumer electronics market" with the unveiling of its iPAQ family of digital audio "solutions."

So, what have they got? The key product . . . er . . . solution, is the iPAQ Music Center (available July 15 for $800), announced last week along with the iPAQ Personal CD Player PCD-1 and the second-generation iPAQ Personal Audio Player, the PA-2. As Compaq puts it, "the iPAQ family of digital audio solutions provides customization, organization, and storage capabilities never before available in consumer electronics products." The company's Sean Burke adds that "with the iPAQ family of audio solutions, Compaq is establishing its presence as a major player in the digital entertainment market. We began this venture last year with the iPAQ Personal Audio Player PA-1, and with the expansion of the line to include the iPAQ Music Center and Personal CD Player, we're bringing PC technology to the consumer electronics world."

Compaq says the iPAQ Music Center can store over 5000 songs (or 400 CDs) in MP3 format on an internal hard drive, enabling "unmatched organization and customization capabilities" for large music collections. The company says that the Music Center is powered by OpenGlobe Entertainment Services which delivers entertainment content, music recommendations, and Internet radio. "By simply pressing the OpenGlobe button on the remote, users will have access to the free and ever-evolving services that can be enjoyed from the convenience of their couches," says the company.

The Music Center does require a monitor to visually manage the collection of audio files, allowing for searching and sorting and creation of playlists. Compaq adds that the Music Center hooks up to a stereo system to digitally record CDs, and when connected to a phone line, also identifies the discs through an Internet connection as they are recorded. The company says that song titles, artist identification, album covers, and genre information are automatically downloaded and that connected users can also listen to and purchase additional music.

The Music Center is also the first Texas Instruments "Internet Audio DSP" product: it is based on the company's new, low-power TMS320C5000 DSP chip, which TI says support all the widely used Internet-based digital audio formats including MP3, WMA, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), ATRAC3 and AudibleReady. TI adds that the new chips are somewhat future-proof, since they are programmable DSPs with the ability to support new product features and audio compression formats by means of software downloads. TI's Chris Schairbaum says that the company expects a whole new generation of TI-powered Internet audio devices to emerge this year. "The iPAQ Music Center offers the first glimpse of what's to come."

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