PC home theater systems on upswing, study says


BRUSSELS -- There will be some 25 million home theater PC systems installed worldwide by 2013, with adoption boosted by the media applications in Microsoft's Vista software, a new study revealed Friday.

The study, by ABI Reseach, says that HTPCs, or media centers, will retain a key role in the connected living room of the future despite the multitude of non-PC devices now available for at-home entertainment. It says that PCs will play an ever-increasing role in the management, distribution and playback of multimedia content in the home, with both network-connected PC media servers and in-living room PCs growing in adoption over time.

An HTPC is a convergence device that is connected to a television or a television-sized computer display for use as a music, video player, personal computer, TV receiver and digital video recorder.

"There are two primary ways the PC can be incorporated into the digital living room," ABI Research analyst Steve Wilson said. "One has a PC directly connected to a client device, a home theater PC, or in the form of a PC integrated with a display. The other involves using an embedded client to extend the PC output to a TV."

Microsoft's bundling of the Media Center application with Vista will help solidify the role of the PC in future living rooms, and clients running over home networks and extender technologies will be the early adopters, the study says. However, these efforts will take time, and there will be some bumps in the road, as shown by the fate of Intel's Viiv program. Additionally, while new broadband-based services may bypass the home PC initially, the PC model will become more inclusive in the future.

There will still be a small market of home theater PC enthusiasts who buy custom-designed home theater PC systems resembling consumer audiovisual equipment, the study says. While all-in-one systems are a bit bulky today, in the future, we will see more optimized designs for converging the PC and TV.

"While the custom install market has some appetite for the best high end home theater PCs, it‚s a very limited demand," Wilson said. "Tech-savvy consumers who understand the advantages of a home theater PC are still price-sensitive and unwilling to pay ultra-high prices.