Hard-Disk Audio

Hard-disk–based audio systems having been gaining traction in recent months, with a half-dozen consumer electronics companies announcing or selling products. These new components model what savvy computer users have been hacking together for years—a software-controlled music library based on hundreds or thousands of CD or MP3 files stored on a hard disk.

No surprise then that computer manufacturers would want a piece of the action. Making good on its initial threat to jump into the CE market along with Dell and Compaq, Hewlett-Packard announced last week that its new "Internet-ready" (the '00's version of "CD-ready"?) digital music component for the living room, the HP Digital Entertainment Center de100c, is now available nationwide on a smattering of retailer shelves.

Available at an estimated US street price of around $1000, the DEC, according to HP, is designed to allow consumers to continually upgrade their units by adding new services and functions through Internet downloads. HP says it also plans to continue developing relationships with digital entertainment service providers to broaden the capabilities of the DEC in the future.

HP says that the DEC can store the equivalent of 750 compact discs (around 9000 songs) using MP3 compression on its built-in 40 gigabyte hard drive and can also locate and stream Internet radio stations. Other features include access to a database of tracks, titles, artists, video clips, and cover art images via Muze.com and the ability to create personal playlists and custom CDs. Additionally, the files can be transferred to several models of portable MP3 players and compact flash card systems.

While Intel has already defected from its foray into the CE market, and both Dell and Compaq have been struggling to get products similar to the DEC to succeed, HP's George Prokop comments, "We are going to do one thing, and we are going to do it really well. The primary need is 'my music, anywhere.' It is trapped on the PC today, and people want to move it to another room."

HP adds that "the movement to make home appliances 'smart' and Internet-enabled is a major business opportunity for hardware vendors, service providers, and appliance makers. According to Cahners In-Stat, the market potential for these products is predicted to exceed 20 million units by 2005."