Entertainment PCs Are All That

PCs that can be used as home entertainment centers: the 21" widescreen high-definition LCD flat-panel monitor (left) that comes with the Gateway FX400XL swivels 90 degrees to provide a landscape or portrait view; Apple's iMac G5 (right) is only an inch and half thick, with the computer entirely inside the monitor.
CBS/Gateway/Apple Computer
My eyes are almost falling out of their sockets as I switch my attention back and forth between two new personal computers designed for both entertainment and productivity. The new iMac G5 with its built-in, 20-inch flat panel monitor is proof, once again, of Apple's ability to stuff a great deal of technology into a relatively small package.

The Gateway FX400XL with Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition is far from petite, but it is incredibly versatile and powerful. Like the Mac, it can play CDs, DVDs, MP3 music and display your photos, but it's also a TV set and Tivo-like personal video recorder. It's also one of the fastest PCs on the market with Intel's newest processor and has a whopping 500 gigabytes of hard drive space.

The Mac sells for $1,699 for the 20-inch model and $1,299 for the 17 inch version. The Gateway costs $2,499 with a very slick 21-inch display. Gateway has other Media Center PCs starting at $699 without a monitor.

Visually, the all white iMac G5 is stunning. Like its immediate predecessors, the entire computer is built into the monitor case, which is only 1 ½ inches thick. There are no bulky boxes to sit on your floor or your desk. The case that houses the 20-inch (diagonal) monitor and the computer is 19 inches wide and 16 inches high (not counting the stand), but the screen itself is 17 by 10 ½, leaving just under 5 inches on the bottom for, I suppose some electronics.

The optical drive, which reads and writes both CDs and DVDs, is also hidden inside the case. All you see is a slot on the right side of the unit.

Like the Gateway (and other Windows Media Edition PCs) the new iMac comes with a remote control, but once again less is more. Apple's is tiny: 3 ¼ by 1 ¼ inches and only a ¼ inch thick. It looks more like an iPod shuffle than a remote and it works like one as well. There are only six buttons including a menu button and other controls laid out in a circular pattern like the iPod controls.

And the resemblance to the iPod doesn't end there. When you use the remote to play a video or music, the interface is extremely iPod-like.

Click here to check out Larry Magid's
podcast analysis of the new Apple and Gateway PCs.

This is the first Mac to be bundled with Apple's new Mighty Mouse, which, finally, has buttons and a scroll wheel. The rest of the hardware is also up to snuff with a 250 gigabyte hard drive, 512 MB of memory and a reasonably fast ATI X600 graphics card.

But there's more. The new iMac also has an iSight camera with a built-in lens in the case. PC cameras, sometimes called webcams, are cheap and easy to install but there's something nice about having one built-in and not taking up any extra space.

Of course, the big thing about the Mac is its software and, once again, Apple came up with a couple of nice touches. To support that camera, the system now comes with Photo Booth which lets you - or you and a very small group of friends - take your own picture, much like those photo booths you see at amusement parks. You can get a normal picture or add all sorts of effects. It's cute and amusing but I suspect most people will quickly tire of the novelty. On a more practical note, that same camera can also be used for video conferencing though Apple's bundled iChat software.