HP’s DreamScreen aims to cut ties to the PC

HP (Nasdaq: HPQ) is trying to revive the idea of placing smart screens around the home to display content from the Web and PCs, though the number of Web sites available at first will be very limited.

The HP DreamScreen, announced Thursday, can display content from the Web without needing to be hooked up to a PC, using its built-in wireless connection. It can also be hooked up to a PC to play music or video stored on the computer in a different room, or to display photos like a digital picture frame.

“What we’re really trying to do is bring a simple, user-intuitive device that’s always on, always connected to the Internet, to bring Web applications that don’t require PCs,” said Ameer Karim, director of worldwide marketing with HP’s futures and innovations group.

The screens use a remote control and a touch panel for input, and can also be used as an alarm clock, to check the weather or to play any of about 15,000 global radio stations, HP said.

The DreamScreens don’t come with a Web browser, however, which limits the Web content that can be viewed. Instead, HP worked with Internet companies and content providers to develop interfaces to display their content. The initial partners are Facebook, the music site Pandora and the photo site Snapfish. More applications may be added in the future, Karim said.

The company stressed that the devices are supposed to complement PCs, not be a substitute for them. Starting a PC just to check something on the Web is time-consuming, Karim noted. The DreamScreens can be hung on a wall or put on a table in living rooms or kitchens, and look more elegant than most PCs, according to Karim.

“Internally, we’ve been calling it ‘bite-sized computing.’ It’s snippets of the stuff you’d normally get on a computer, but we don’t really want to bring productivity here,” he said.

The products come in 10.2- and 13.3-inch sizes, priced at US$249 and $299, respectively. They will be available starting October in the U.S. through Best Buy, Amazon.com and other retailers. HP didn’t provide plans to sell the product worldwide.

The device may support TV viewing in the future, Karim said. “It is very likely you will see these devices do all sorts of things like access content on a DVR or a set-top box.” It may also pull video content from TV stations in the future.

Other companies have tried to market smart screens for the home but without success. A few years ago Microsoft was promoting its Windows Powered Smart Displays, which had to be connected to a PC to display Web content but were otherwise similar. The products failed to gain traction and were eventually cancelled.

HP’s smart screen uses the Linux OS and comes with 2GB of internal storage so that photos, music and movies can be stored locally. It will have a USB port and a memory card reader, from which digital content can be played. It supports multiple MPEG video formats; the JPEG, PNG and bitmap (BMP) photo file formats; and MP3, WMA, AAC and WAV audio formats. HP didn’t comment about the processor inside the product.

Other companies are also experimenting with new ways to access the Internet in the home. Intel has shown off TV sets and set-top boxes that run small Web applications that it says can complement TV viewing. For example, a group of friends on MySpace could chat with each other about a program they are watching.

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