HP cuts prices on Media Center PC refresh

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) updated its lineup of Media Center PCs Friday with lower-priced models that feature Intel Corp.’s new Prescott Pentium 4 processors.

The new HP Media Center m400 Photosmart PC is the latest desktop from HP to run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. The first Media Center PCs were launched in 2002, but are receiving more attention this year from PC companies looking to capitalize on the rise of digital media.

Intel and PC companies want the PC to occupy the center of a digital home, and are seeking to change the way consumers think about their home PC. New PCs are pitched as the engines behind a digital media library, rather than as word processing or office productivity tools.

The early versions of Media Center PCs, including the m400, haven’t looked all that different from traditional desktop PCs. Companies such as Gateway Inc. are starting to release more attractive designs that fit in with the consumer electronics devices already displayed in the living rooms of media savvy consumers.

The Prescott Pentium 4 processor was designed with the home media PC in mind, containing 13 new instructions that help boost the performance of some multimedia applications. But the overall performance of the new Prescott chips is about the same as the performance of the older Northwood Pentium 4 chips without those instructions, according to Intel and third-party reviewers. Prescott’s performance is expected to leave the older Northwood chips behind as Intel validates the chip to run at higher clock speeds throughout this year.

The new m400 series PCs are essentially refreshed versions of the m300 series introduced last year. They allow users to import and edit digital pictures with HP’s ImageZone software, as well as to record and pause live television. The PCs also have links on the desktop to content from legal providers working with HP and Microsoft, such as CinemaNow Inc., Movielink LLC and Napster LLC.

Three m400 PCs are available at retail stores in the U.S., and both fixed configuration as well as build-to-order models are available on HP’s Web site. The company offers the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 Prescott chip as the default option on the configurable m400 series PCs.

A base configuration of the m400 on HP’s Web site costs US$879.99 after a US$50 rebate with the 2.8GHz Prescott chip, 256MB of PC3200 (400MHz) DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), an 80GB hard drive, a CD-rewritable (RW)/DVD-ROM combo drive, and a Radeon 9200 graphics card from ATI Technologies Inc. with 128MB of video memory.

Several upgrade options are available, including hard drives as large as 250GB, dual CD drives, DVD+RW drives, speakers and flat-panel displays.

The U.S. retail models will start at US$1,249.99, after a US$50 rebate.

When the m300 series was launched last September, the configurable models were priced at US$999.99, and the fixed configuration models were available starting at US$1,499.99.