SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. took aim at consumers' living rooms with the launch on Wednesday of an Internet-ready home digital music center that it hopes will build a market where competitors have failed to make it big.
The Digital Entertainment Center de100c costs about $1,000 and looks like a large VCR. It stores the equivalent of 750 compact discs on its built-in 40 gigabyte hard drive and plays Internet radio stations included on a list put together by partner RealNetworks Inc.
Through a built-in display or a menu on the television, the center can be programmed to rerecord music from CDs onto the hard drive, converted into the popular MP3 music file format.
The machine also will write CDs, but it lacks a DVD player. ''We are going to do one thing, and we are going to do it really well,'' Product Manager George Prokop said. ``The primary need is my music, anywhere. It is trapped on the PC today, and people want to move it to another room.''
Computer and electronics companies dream of linking households to the Internet in ways beyond the personal computer, but none have found a popular formula yet.
Hewlett-Packard, the third-largest personal computer maker, follows market leader Dell Computer Corp and No. 2 player Compaq Computer Corp. with variations of home digital audio products, but so far none have taken off.
Apple Computer Inc. this month brought out a portable music player that is the size of a deck of cards and holds about 1,000 songs on a 5 gigabyte hard drive. Its simple and easy interface has garnered early critical success, but Apple has yet to prove many of its users will pay roughly $400 for the iPod players.
Prokop said the primary market for Hewlett-Packard's new product is music enthusiasts who spend 10 to 15 hours a week on the Internet for nonwork reasons and are the first to buy new technology.
Such buyers are least affected by the weak economy, he said, and industry analysts expect that audio jukeboxes of this kind would be a 400,000 unit market in a couple of years.