Windows Media Centre PCs will launch without EPG [updated]

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With the long awaited launch of Windows Media Centre PCs set to take place later this month, Microsoft launch partner HP has confirmed that one of the key features -- the Electronic Program Guide -- will not be ready at launch.

While Microsoft has yet to confirm the exact features that will be available in the Australian version of its Media Centre operating system, HP has confirmed that the initial launch of its Windows Media Centre PCs in Australia will lack the Electronic Program Guide functionality.

Speaking to journalists on HP's digital entertainment strategy in Shanghai yesterday, Tom Anderson, vice president, marketing CPC, said that while the vendor's Media Centre PCs would ship with the ability to use an EPG, HP did not expect Microsoft would have the system up and running for launch.

"At the moment we do not believe Microsoft will have EPG. We believe it's a very important part of the customers' experience and ease of use. They won't have that ready."

Anderson and Asia Pac vice president, consumer products and mobile business group, See Chin Teik, were unclear on the upgrade path available for consumers who bought the non-EPG enabled Media Centre PC at launch.

"Today every Media Centre has been upgradable," said Anderson, referring to the Media Centre PCs which have been available in the US for two years. But he added that "there is some configuration required" for the EPG to work -- as they are tailored to reflect the television broadcasts available in the consumer's location. As such, the process for upgrading once the EPG becomes available was unclear.

"We encourage people to buy Media Centre for what it does now," he said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that availability of EPG requires the co-operation of industry players and the company was “actively working with the industry to bring an EPG to market.

“On October 13, Windows XP Media Centre Edition will launch and whether or not an EPG is available, we are confident that Windows XP Media Centre Edition will deliver the best experience for people to share photos, listen to music and watch movies and generally enhance the PC experience in the living room,” the spokesperson said.

The Australian Media Centre PCs will launch with the current 2004 operating system, although a new version of the OS is due to be released next month. Users would need to download an upgrade as with other Microsoft operating systems, he said.

The range of 3 SKUs, available from 30 September, will be priced from $2999 to $3799. While HP will make it available to its whole channel, some SKUs will be restricted, according to Robert Bergquist, consumer PC market development manager.

"Selected SKUs will be sold through selective channels," he said. One retail partner confirmed for launch is Harvey Norman.

Acer and Toshiba will also launch Windows Media Centre PCs next month.

<i>Sarah Stokely travelled to Shanghai as a guest of HP.</i>

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