Next week Hewlett-Packard is to unveil the prototype for a high-end, standalone home MP3 player based on Linux in an effort to establish a niche in the increasingly fuzzy market between consumer electronics and PC peripherals.
The device, called the HP Digital Entertainment Center, is aimed at letting users download and play Internet music files, mainly MP3 tracks, without a PC. It is designed to fit in with standard component stereo equipment, but is capable of connecting to a television for a larger display and to a PC via Ethernet or a HomePNA network. The HomePNA (Home Phone Networking Alliance) standard creates a 1mbit/s network over home phone wiring, though it currently only works in the US.
The device also includes a CD-RW drive for storing and loading music onto its 40GB hard drive, a 56K modem and a fluorescent display that can be used to browse HP's portal for downloadable tracks.
It runs on a 566MHz Celeron processor with 64MB of RAM and is built around Intel's 810 chipset.
As for the operating system, Digital Entertainment Center uses the Linux 2.4 kernel and X Window system, with a custom graphical user interface. HP said that rather than releasing the device's users into the wilds of the Internet it has created a "walled garden", XML-based portal on which streaming video, songs and song information can be downloaded, Internet radio stations can be located and playlists can be set up.
It will be demonstrated for the first time at next week's Tech X (formerly PC Expo) in New York City.
HP is not the first to announce such a device, though the market for standalone MP3 hardware is nascent: Nokia and Be, among others, have announced standalone multimedia devices.
HP says the device will sell for under £1,000 (about £700) and will be available in time for this Christmas.
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