Advanced Micro Devices has created a prototype PC designed to go in the living room, a place where several companies have tried to go before but almost none has succeeded.
Resembling a stereo component, the computer is designed essentially to function as a media vault: it stores music, videos, TV shows and photos, and then pipes them to flat-panel TVs and other PCs. PC makers can, conceivably, use the prototype as a reference design.
"There will be PCs in the living room. They won't look like PCs," Joe Menard, corporate vice president of consumer business at AMD, said during an interview at the Samsung Executive Summit this week in San Jose. Some of these types of PCs may come out next year, he added.
Companies that have tried to get PCs into the living room include Gateway and Compaq, which tried to sell large-projection TVs linked to PCs in the late 1990s. But high prices led to low sales.
In early 2004, Intel's Paul Otellini unfurled the EPC (Entertainment Personal Computer) at the Consumer Electronics Show. Its bulky appearance and noisy fan crimped sales. Intel revamped the idea with its Viiv line of PCs. Still, most Viiv PCs are not packaged in sleek, small cases that would fit in living-room entertainment racks. Most Viiv PCs are about the same size as standard desktops and laptops.
Apple Computer also came out with a Mac Mini in 2005, but despite the good reviews, it's nowhere near being a cultural phenomenon.
There are Intel-based computers making it into the living room, but they're not PCs. Toshiba's HD DVD player runs an x86 chip. Some set-top boxes also have Intel chips.
So why will the living-room PC concept succeed where it has limped along in the past? Chip cooling has improved, so computer makers will be able to get away from fans, Menard said.
With Vista, Microsoft's soon-to-be released new operating system, consumers will be able to play high-definition content on PCs--providing them with an incentive to pick up a living-room PC.