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IDM Bringing PC Theater Concept To Retailers’ Shelves

IDM (Interactive Digital Media Corp.), a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based home network systems start-up, will attempt to put a new spin on the convergence concept when it delivers its first “digital entertainment consoles” to select retail accounts later this month.

The company has developed a line of high-performance and high-powered personal computers that have been optimized for a wide range of home entertainment and utility functions. But unlike other attempts to spark a PC-TV revolution, IDM is positioning its systems as the precursors to a class of products that will eventually become the heart of tomorrow’s in-home digital networks.

To do this, the company is bundling a huge suite of home entertainment, communication and automation software with its line of PC-DECs. In addition to performing most standard home and business computer applications, IDM’s systems will support wireless home automation functionality using X-10 modules.

Software and hardware applications offer full home theater functionality along with telephone/fax/voice-mail communications. The PC-DECs even performs some new tricks, including recording video and television programs to an internal hard disk, using ATI software applications.

IDM made its debut at CES, meeting with nearly a dozen of the top consumer electronics retailers from across the country. Longtime industry veteran John Widlicka has been hired as chief marketing officer.

What sets IDM’s PC-DECs apart from other PC/TVs that have been introduced, revamped or withdrawn altogether over the past five years by a number of companies is a focus on making the system the hub of home entertainment, Widlicka said. Also, the other manufacturers have sought to push full systems, including high-priced monitors, which have frightened off even some more affluent prospects.

Although IDM recommends and sells peripherals for the CPU, such as high-quality data-grade video projectors and surround-sound speakers, it will not require either the retailer or the consumer to buy those extras. Dealers are free to mix and match their own TV monitors and surround-sound system components.

In fact, one of IDM’s strengths, said Widlicka, is its distribution flexibility. The company will customize products for individual accounts, and even entertains OEM relationships for stores looking to use their own house brands. The company will also allow a retailer to make its own deals with Internet service providers, a departure from the super-cheap desktop computer brands that derive revenue from aftermarket service subscriptions.

Currently, IDM offers five PC-DEC models (systems Five through Nine), which are differentiated by internal components, add-on peripherals and software bundles. Suggested retail prices range from $1,795-$8,995. The high end of the line includes a home theater-class video projector and surround-sound speaker package.

The entry System Five includes a Celeron-level processor, while Systems Seven through Nine have Pentium III-class processors ranging in clock speed from 800-900MHz.

The system most visible in IDM promotions, which include an infomercial video tape, is the System Seven — which packages a DVD-ROM player, CD player, TV tuner, a “tapeless VCR,” FM stereo radio, home automation, video gaming, and a communication center including an Internet phone.

Widlicka said IDM can adjust those capabilities for retail accounts, and consumers can order custom-made systems through a retailer to include the specifics they require. The unit ships with a wireless keyboard, remote control and joystick.

All units carry a one-year warranty, but IDM offers an unlimited tech-support line, he said. Other models vary by software and additional hardware packages. Models include the latest ports and connections, including USB and IEEE 1394 (FireWire).

In the System Seven, users can hook up a digital camcorder and use a number of image-manipulation software programs or video-editing suites to create professional-looking still images or video presentations.

Currently, the PC-DEC systems use ATI TV tuner cards for analog NTSC broadcasts, but digital tuner cards will be added in the near future. The unit will output video in either interlace or progressive-scan formats. Anti-aliasing software is included to present text and graphics clearly on interlaced TV screens.