If you need evidence that the much-predicted convergence of computers and consumer electronics may finally be upon us, consider this: the latest devices from PC heavyweights Compaq and Hewlett-Packard are now competing head-to-head for a place in your stereo system. Following HP's recent announcement of its Digital Entertainment Center, Compaq unveiled its similar iPaq Music Center at PC Expo/TechXNY in New York last week.
Like the HP product, Compaq's device is an MP3 jukebox that also receives Internet radio. With a $US800 price tag, it's slated to hit store shelves in mid-July - beating HP's unit which isn't expected in the US until September.
The slick black iPaq Music Center is designed to sit in a stack of stereo components along with your receiver, tape deck and other audio equipment. It also has a built-in modem and connects to a TV for video output. The unit has a CD player - stick in a music CD, and the Music Center identifies its tracks (via the Internet's CDDB music database), then catalogues them and stores them as MP3 files on its internal hard drive.
The TV display and the button-laden remote control let you navigate and organise your music collection by artist or genre. However it isn't compatible with the newer wireless home networks that use the 802.11b standard.
One significant difference between Compaq's product and HP's similar device is that Compaq doesn't include a built-in CD-R that lets you burn custom CDs. However the Compaq may be cheaper - HP has said only that its Digital Entertainment Center will be priced under $1000.
Compaq and HP aren't the first companies to ship MP3 components of this sort. Similar machines have been available for some time from smaller vendors such as AudioRamp and Request Multimedia. There are also some existing add-on products on the market that help bring digital music to your stereo. Nevertheless, the computing behemoths' entry into the market could help popularise these devices, or at least test whether consumers are ready for MP3s in the living room.