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3 Visions of New Home Systems


When three technology executives make essentially the same proclamation on the same day, it's probably something big. The only question is whether it's the beginning of something real or just another fad.

Last week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs and Moxi Digital CEO Steve Pearlman each told the world about technology that can control, coordinate and link home entertainment and information systems.

Part of that vision already has come true.

Millions of people already use PCs and Macs to store their music collections--songs they download from the Internet or rip from commercial CDs. And many use their PCs to burn audio CDs to enjoy in the living room or when they're away from home.

For many, the PC also has become a digital darkroom and photo library. Most PC users with digital cameras no longer shelve their photos in albums, but store them on hard drives. A growing number of creative souls are using personal computers to edit and store their home movies--sometimes copying the finished product on a VHS tape or DVD so they can play them on TV.

PCs with DVD players are sometimes pressed into service for movie watching. Some people have even equipped their systems with TV tuners, turning their PC into a sophisticated boob tube.

If Gates and Jobs have their way, you'll no longer have to make those CDs, DVDs or videotapes. Your PC will be connected to your TV set and to speakers throughout the house, and there will be a wireless link to your portable audio players and perhaps even your car stereo. They have a computer-centric view of the world of digital entertainment.

Microsoft and Apple want their systems to become the center of the digital universe. In November, Microsoft announced its eHome initiative, which, among other things, would turn PCs into home entertainment centers capable of delivering video, audio, home movies and digital photographs to screens throughout the house.

Gates, during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, elaborated on the concept. "You could literally connect back to any applications on the PC and have that information and interaction with those [home entertainment] devices as you please," he said.

Jobs made similar comments during his keynote speech at last week's MacWorld Expo, just before he introduced the new flat-screen iMac.

Moxi's Pearlman has a different idea. He used CES to announce the Moxi Media Center--a device that serves as a personal video recorder, satellite or cable tuner, CD/DVD player and music jukebox as well as a hub, or gateway, that can deliver the Internet or data to PCs that are connected via Ethernet or a wireless network.

The device can support up to four TVs as well as multiple PCs and speakers throughout the house. To be sure, Moxi's device is a computer. It has an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a FireWire port to enable users to add external hard drives. It runs the Linux operating system and has plenty of other PC components.

But it looks and acts more like a VCR than a PC. Therein lies a lesson.

Convergence between PCs and TVs may sound cool, but it doesn't always make sense.

Moxi Digital--which will be sold by cable and satellite providers--makes perfect sense because it is a dedicated device. It can perform specific tasks without the complications of software and a user interface designed primarily for productivity tasks rather than entertainment.

Sorry Mr. Gates, but I'm afraid I can't say the same about using Windows as the center of my home entertainment system.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes .com.

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