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Compaq Introduces Internet Audio Component

LAS VEGAS -After inching close to the consumer electronics category with the release of an MP3 player, Compaq became a full-fledged CE vendor with the introduction at CES of its iPaq Music Center.

The Music Center is a stereo component-size device that incorporates a CD player, 20GB hard drive, broadband Internet connectivity and HomePNA networking capability-and which Compaq plans to sell the through its computer channel partners and audio specialty chains, said product marketing manager Rob Masterson.

Designed to connect to a home’s stereo and television, the Music Center can download music directly from the Internet or rip CDs to its hard drive.

“We see ourselves going beyond the PC this year,” said Anne Adams, director of Internet services and eTronics, “and move out from the MP3 player we introduced into the home audio category.”

Compaq expects to ship the Music Center by March with a suggested retail price well under $1,000.

The Music Center is controlled via a remote and an onscreen graphic user interface that is displayed on the TV screen. The interface is similar to those used to download and rip music on a PC. In addition, the system has an e-commerce function.

The software analyzes the music stored on the hard drive and then can suggest music for the consumer to buy off the Internet. Masterson said the first models cannot download music purchased on the Web, but a software patch will be released and sent to the device at a later date to give the component this capability.

Other capabilities include accessing Internet radio stations, and when it’s connected to a home network, downloading and uploading music to a PC. The system has a front-mounted USB port for attaching Compaq’s PA-1 portable audio player, and Masterson said he is looking into adding software so other MP3-type devices can be used.

Since the Music Center is positioned as an audio component, Compaq plans to sell it in the audio section in CE stores.

Adams said Compaq will not abandon the PC market, but she added that profit potential of CE-type products is a draw. She also thought these and other upcoming products from Compaq will help prod consumers into buying new PCs so they can take full advantage of what will be available.

The company also introduced a companion device tentatively dubbed the Connected Music Player. This product is connected to a home network and can remotely access music from either a PC or the Music Center, Masterson said. It has no storage capacity or CD player.

The Connected Music Player is expected to ship in the first half with a $300 suggested retail price.

Compaq also plans to add to its PA-1 portable digital audio player this year, Adams said.

In other news, Compaq will make available through its online Built For You program a Presario desktop that features a Pioneer combination DVD-R/CD-RW drive.

The basic unit will have a $2,399 suggested retail price. It comes with a full version of StudioDV, for creating DVD discs, and the consumer edition of Sonic’s DVD authoring title DVDit.