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HP Joins Compaq In Hard-Drive Jukebox Market

Hewlett-Packard joined merger partner Compaq in the market for Internet-radio/hard-drive music jukeboxes, but it’s not certain if the two companies will drop one of the two products if their planned merger goes through sometime next year.

“It’s hard to say what the results of the merger will be,” said an HP spokeswoman.

HP’s model, the Digital Entertainment Center de100c, just became available nationwide at Best Buy stores and select Circuit City stores at an everyday $999. It’s a step up from Compaq’s device.

Unveiled in June, the Internet-connected de100c lets consumers purchase CDs online, rip music from CDs, and store and manage that music in MP3 or Real formats onto a 40GB hard drive. It also streams Internet radio stations and Web video and uses an internal CD-recording drive to burn audio CD-R/RW discs (not data CD-R/RW discs) from music stored on the hard drive. The device also transfers music to select Internet audio portables and Compact Flash cards.

Through future software upgrades, the device will be able to download music from the Web and support transfers to additional Internet audio portables, the spokeswoman said.

The HP Digital Entertainment Center can be connected to the Internet using either its internal dial-up modem or a connected broadband modem through a customer’s existing ISP. Dial-up support excludes AOL, CompuServe and free ISPs that require a Web browser to display ads.

The device comes with HomePNA and Ethernet home-network connection to compatible broadband modems.

Seattle-based RealNetworks worked with HP to design the interface, which incorporates RealPlayer streaming A/V software and RealJukebox music-management software.

Through the Internet services available through the device, consumers can tune into Internet radio stations worldwide by country, city, language, station name or call letters. The device’s Internet guide also lets users access videos and movie trailers, not just music.

The Digital Entertainment Center also accesses the Muze Web site to download a CD’s track, title, artist information and cover art.

Additional features can be added in the future through software downloads.

Compaq’s $799-suggested iPAQ Music Center is also a hard-drive-based audio recorder and streaming Internet radio. It features internal audio CD drive and HomePNA 2.0 connectivity to a potential future companion device, which could remotely access the Music Center from another room and feed music to a connected audio system.

Compaq’s multizone device stores MP3 music files on an internal 20GB hard drive, and it can be upgraded via potential future downloads to support additional codecs. Music can be ripped at 6x-7x speed from an internal CD drive or in real time from external devices such as turntables and CD changers. The drive will also play data CDs burned with MP3 music.

Compaq’s device also streams Windows Media Audio (WMA) music directly from the Web via an internal 56K modem or Ethernet-connected broadband modem.

The device also transfers songs to Compaq’s PA-1 portable MP3 player and to the Rio 600, but support for additional models could be added.