Ihug previews tooled-up new "toy" at show

Visitors to this weekend's Big Boys' Toys show in Auckland will be able to play with the device powering the Internet Group's push into the home entertainment market. The new PC comes in a black VCR-style case and boasts a DVD drive, a StarNet high-speed Internet card and a set-top box card that will be able handle both TV and a pay-per-view movie service powered by a video server the company picked up from Telecom's defunct First Media cable business.

Visitors to this weekend's Big Boys' Toys show in Auckland will be able to play with the device powering the Internet Group's push into the home entertainment market.

The new PC comes in a black VCR-style case and boasts a DVD drive, a StarNet high-speed Internet card and a set-top box card that can handle both TV and a pay-per-view movie service Ihug plans to launch next year. The movie service will be powered by a video server the company picked up from Telecom's defunct First Media cable business.

The "Pentium II-level" PC will be released in two or three weeks and will cost about $3000 without a monitor.

"It'll go where your TV goes," says Ihug director Nick Wood. "You could buy a smaller monitor and stick it in your office, but we're assuming it's going to go in the living room.

"We're going to be selling it with a range of monitors, from 14 inches up to a really cool 31 inch monitor that's black, like your television and it's only $1500, the same price as a normal TV in that size - but it's a high-quality VGA monitor as well as a television.

"You can use pretty high resolutions with it but the best one I've found is 600 x 800. You can sit back and read the characters quite happily at that. It will also plug into your TV via s-video or RCA if you want to do it that way."

The set-top box card was sourced from a Korean company. It allows the user to view other channels picture-in-picture or to use a TV broadcast as a Windows desktop.

"It gives you full entertainment control," says Wood. "It's on a wireless keyboard so you can sit in your lounge and surf the Internet at high speed, download files while you're watching a movie or television, or whatever."

The PC will also record video to its own hard drive on a timer system.

As if that's not enough, Wood says the company plans to be a broadcaster itself, using the former First Media hardware. Computerworld understands a senior Telecom executive tried to block the server's sale, for a fraction of its cost, when it was realised that Ihug was the buyer.

"The TV network we're launching will have 12 channels of television and 30 channels of pay-per-view - where you select the movie you want to watch," says Wood. "We hope to have at least three or four channels up straight away - CNN, Discovery, Animal Planet and probably BBC World running within the next couple of weeks, permanently.

"The idea is to give people the first year's service for free with the system, so you get StarNet and the TV channels for free and you pay for your movies."

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