From its dull business origins, the PC has become the home entertainment centre par excellence, outperforming dedicated consumer electronic devices, claimed Intel at the European Computer Trade Show in London this week.
But for the majority the PC is too expensive and complex, and lacks one killer application to make it a must-have for every household.
"The PC can do linear media on a par with any consumer entertainment device," said Ron Whittier, senior VP of Intel's content group. "But it can also do a whole spectrum of interactive entertainment as well."
Despite the variety of entertainment available on the PC, vendors struggle to justify the price of a PC over other consumer devices. Asked what is the biggest inhibitor to the sale of PCs into homes, Whitter replied, "showing value".
"You have to have a good selling proposition - a set of applications significantly better than prior platforms or unique to the new one," he said.
Whittier's comments were part of a keynote speech entitled "The PC: it's where the fun is", plugging the Pentium II processor for consumer PCs.
Elsewhere in the show, Sony was promoting the superiority of its Playstation console for computer gaming. Sony Computer's European head, Chris Deering, emphasised the simplicity and stability of the console in contrast to the complexity and shortening life cycle of the PC.
Sony has sold about four million Playstations in the UK and expects to sell a further two million before next summer. There are hundreds of titles published for the platform, all of which play without customisation or configuration.
Apart from its price, the Playstation has remained unchanged since its launch in September 1995, whereas the PC has evolved through several iterations since, a factor which inhibits consumers fearful of rapid obsolescence.
Part of Whittier's presentation claimed that the visual computing performance of the average PC sold to consumers will increase ten-fold in the next three years.
"Such statements are only more likely to make consumers wait three years and not buy now," said one computer retailer attending the show.
"We have to find an application which overcomes that barrier of waiting for the next great thing," said Whittier.
Both protagonists - Intel and Sony - said that the PC and console are more complimentary than competitive. But the uniqueness of the PC to handle a multitude of home entertainment could be under threat from set-top boxes, such as NetProducts' Netstation and Microsoft's WebTV, which promise Internet access, online gaming and basic computing from a #300 - #400 console.
Furthermore, games console vendors such as Sony, Nintendo and Sega already have or are piloting Internet access from their consoles.
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