Practical Technology

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Bye HP Digital Entertainment Center, Hi HP MediaSmart TV


According to a report in CEPro, a publication for people in the custom electronics installation and support business, Hewlett-Packard is dropping out of the DEC (Digital Entertainment Center) biz.

DECs, for those of you who haven’t met them, are computers that look like A/V (audio/video) equipment so you can put them right into your entertainment center. The latest and greatest of these was the HP DEC z565

It sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Instead of fooling around with media extenders like the Apple TV or a D-Link DSM-520 MediaLounge Wireless HD Media Player, you can just put the whole PC nine-yards in your media room without it looking techno-shabby.

So, why is HP bringing it to a close? They’re not telling me, but I know I know the answer: Price.

The HP z565 lists for $3,000. Now, I can see that for a killer HD display, but for a media center computer? OK, so it’s a very nice looking media center computer, but come on! I don’t think so!

Moving ahead, HP is investing in its own MediaSmart TVs. These are HP-branded LCD TVs with digital media adapters built in

These first of these is the HP SLC3760N. This is a 37-inch wide-screen LCD TV. HP claims that this display has 6,000:1 dynamic contrast and 1,200:1 contrast ratio with 6 ms (millisecond) response time. I’ll have to see that for myself to believe it. This display supports 1080i (interlaced), 720p (progressive), 480p and 480i.

For computer video to TV, the SLC3760N supports the following video formats: MPEG-1, MPEG-2 MP@ML, MPEG-2 MP@HL, WMV, WMV-HD, AVI, DVR-MS, DivX (MPEG-4). It doesn’t, however, support QuickTime.

To get the video from your hard drive to the 37″ screen, the SLC3760n uses a small A/V box in the back. The overall effect is to make it the TV a bit “fatter” than the usual LCD panel television.

This box is a media extender. It can pull in video, audio and photos using either 802.11b/g Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection.

On the server side, you’ll need a PC running Microsoft’s Windows Media Connect. This comes bundled with Windows Media Player 11. Thanks to this you don’t need to be running Vista Ultimate or Windows XP Media Center Edition on your PC. Any version of XP can run Media Player 11.

For more ordinary TV inputs, it comes with a built-in HD tuner with a CableCARD slot and dual HDMI ports. Don’t get too excited about two HDMI ports though, one of them is slaved to the use of the media extender. Considering how little HD content is likely to be found on most home media networks, I’d rather have seen this port freed up for use for say a Blu-ray player.

It also has a pair of component video inputs, two composite video inputs, and one S-Video input. There’s also a standard RF input that can handle OTA (over-the-air) and cable source.

So, is this a good move for HP? I’m none too sure. The SLC3760n, from what I can tell, looks like a nice all-in-one TV and media extender, but I’m not sure it’s worth the street price of about $1,500.

For my money, matching up a stand alone media extender and a high-quality television makes more sense. You may disagree.

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