Media Centre provides impetus for Whitebox move to home entertainment

Media Centre provides impetus for Whitebox move to home entertainment

The much-awaited launch of Microsoft's Media Centre (MC) suite on October 14 has seen Australia's PC manufacturers eagerly graft new products in order to get a head start on the emerging home entertainment market.

What remains in doubt is the role traditional IT resellers will play against the consumer electronics heavy weights.

The much-awaited launch of Microsoft's Media Centre (MC) suite, slated for October 14, has Australia's PC manufacturers divided. Some such as Pioneer have positioned themselves for a head start on the emerging home entertainment market. However, other local heavy weights, such as ASI Solutions, are holding back on offerings for the home space, awaiting opportunities in the education sector.

What remains in doubt is the role for traditional technology resellers as the technology becomes more oriented towards home entertainment. Market analyst for research group IDC, Michael Sager, urged resellers to get involved in the home entertainment market in time to ride the promotional wave which will no doubt accompany the Australian launch of MC later next month.

"Combinations of consumer electronics and information technology will become more a part of daily life," he said. "The business market for IT is largely saturated, so resellers looking for growth would do well to include digital home offerings on the shop floor."

Nonetheless Sager believes resellers will have to make sure their digital home offerings are easy to assemble and use, lest they overwhelm their non-techie target market.

"The general theme is simplicity, whatever devices you are putting together in a digital home entertainment suite, they need to be easy to connect and use," he said. "In fact if resellers can find channel partners who have already gone into how to put the home entertainment bundles together, then they may as well leave them to do the hard work."

Whitebox manufacturer Pioneer is whole-heartedly embracing the technology, and is ready to launch MC bundles on September 30, before the software itself is launched in Australia.

"We already have a MC notebook with a 17 inch monitor, and the option to include two hard drives," Pioneer product manager, Jeff Li, said. "We are also looking at putting out a small PC with a big screen, at a very aggressive price."

Pioneer isn't the only local whitebox manufacturer looking at how the new operating system will change the size and shape of the humble PC. In the long run whitebox manufacturer Optima, is planning to hit the consumer electronics market with a long flat box, shaped more like a traditional video player than a computer.

But don't be too quick to clear a space on the showroom floor. The initial commercial push of MC products will be focused on consumer electronics retailers such as Retrovision and the Good Guys, rather than IT retailers.

"We are not changing the casing in the early days because we just want to get a product out to the market, but later on we are thinking of creating a smaller form factor and a horizontal rather than a vertical case," Optima retail and channel desktop product manager, David Choi.

According to Choi, a typical MC hardware bundle would be better suited to consumer electronics stores in the early days, as they already understand the associated consumer electronics products.

Technical director for Volante's manufacturing arm Ipex, Yaron Schwalb, said the company is in the throws of developing a range of MC-focused products for both consumer electronics stores as well as traditional resellers.

"It depends on the packaging, if you put a product which looks like an amplifier in the computer section of a Harvey Norman store it will die," he said. "It's just not a PC so people who are looking for a PC won't buy it."

Nonetheless he still sees a role for the traditional PC resellers, pointing out that some MC-based products will maintain a PC form factor, albeit with a smaller foot print.

"We have a product due to be launched in October this year which is aimed at the kids' bedroom," Schwalb said. "It is a very powerful machine with a very small footprint, designed for the kid's bedroom. They can watch TV, play music, play their computer games and do their homework from the one machine. It's a PC that happens to run Media Centre so it will sell well through our traditional channel partners."

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