In the past few years, a popular topic for commentary among many observers of residential technology developments has been the “PC vs. CE” argument, in which a prediction is offered as to which platform will be dominant as a multimedia hub for the home. On the “pro-PC” side, supporters typically argue that home computers are beginning to assume more of an entertainment role (as home users become accustomed to downloading and storing music and video files, for example), that the PC industry has a history of building interoperable products, and that the consumer electronics industry is behind the curve, thanks to high-end products, a dubious history of attempting to create interopable solutions, and questions about which distribution channels will be most effective in deploying network-capable consumer electronics products to the mass-market consumer.
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In essence, both sides have solid arguments, but Parks Associates chooses not to declare a winner in this case. We believe that PCs and consumer electronics equipment that foster a connected entertainment experience in the home will both flourish. We futher argue that it is shortsighted to oversimplify a “PC vs. CE” argument, when in fact the platforms themselves may not be the most important piece of the puzzle in delivering a true end-to-end entertainment experience to the end-user.
After being skeptical for some time about the PC’s role in the house as an “entertainment server,” Parks Associates does now think that the time is right for the home computer to assume a more prominent role in the home as an entertainment platform. Consumers are now beginning to use the PC as an entertainment device, downloading and storing a myriad of MP3 files. New software and hardware solutions will also allow home computers to take on the role of a “hub,” sending stored media to other devices in the home (such as existing televisions and stereos).
Simultaneously, the consumer electronics industry is deploying platforms that are increasingly intelligent and capable of storing large amounts of multimedia content. They include different platforms, from the set-top box to digital jukeboxes and standalone personal video recorders (PVRs). At present, however, many of these devices are constrained by higher price tags, by questions surrounding the service provider deployment model (cable companies, for example, are becoming increasingly cash-strapped and may not be in a position in the near future to deploy expensive set-top boxes), and a hesitancy by the consumer electronics industry at large to fully embrace a networking technology.
In the end, Parks Associates believes that the PC and standalone consumer electronics platforms will both play key roles as distributed hubs in the home. Therefore, we would prefer to shift the arguments of one solution against another to perhaps more mundane (but probably far more important) issues, such as 1) how do home users take advantage of ALL kinds of storage devices in the home (PCs, CE, etc.) and access content transparently across all platforms; and 2) developing an easy-to-use interface (software/hardware) that allows the end user to interact with the stored media in the home (again, regardless of where that content is stored).