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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 08:53 GMT
PC games console takes on rivals
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

The PlayStation 2 has a new rival in the shape of a console that can play hundreds more games than any other on the market.

The ApeXtreme PC games console on show at CES
The Apex console had its debut at the Las Vegas show
The upstart is a machine designed to let people play computer games on a TV set in the living room.

The Discover PC game console is the brainchild of a California-based company called Digital Interactive Systems Corporation (Disc).

Its software allows a gamer to simply drop a disc into the machine, which then automatically recognises, installs and plays the game.

"The user has the same experience as if they are playing on a PlayStation or Xbox, where it is a very simple consumer electronics product rather than a PC," said Curtis Kaiser, a Disc spokesman.

Windows XP machine

The first console based on the technology developed by the company had its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

On display was the ApeXtreme by Apex Digital, which is better known for making DVD players.

The machine is effectively a PC, running a version of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system for consumer applications.

The ApeXtreme PC games console on show at CES
1.2 GHz processor
40GB hard drive
5.1 digital audio
DVD/CD playback
$399 US retail price
When a computer game is loaded, the console automatically recognises, installs and runs the game. When you play the game again, the machine boots up and plays like a PlayStation or Xbox console.

The Apex machine comes with software to automatically recognise more than 2,000 games. Additional software to load new titles can be downloaded over the internet, as can game updates and patches.

As well as running computer games, the console also plays DVDs, MP3 music files and digital pictures.

"It is a console with a PC inside," explained Mr Kaiser. "We're running on Windows XP Embedded and we have stripped it down so that it is only gaming and media playback.

"We have stripped out the other parts of the system that people who just want to play games and run DVDs and CDs in their living room are not interested in," he told BBC News Online.

The ApeXtreme is due to go on sale in the US in mid-2004. Gamers in the UK will probably have to wait until Christmas before getting their hands on one.

Other manufacturers, such as the high-end gaming PC maker Alienware, are also lined up to produce a version of the console.

Demanding games

But playing computer games on your TV comes at a price. Apex's entry-level machine is expected to cost $399, (231), far more than its console rivals.

The ApeXtreme PC games console lets you play games on a TV screen
Console aims to let you play PC games on a TV screen
The people behind the concept accept that their offering will put a bigger dent in the pocket of gamers, but do not see this as a major obstacle.

"We're not going to fight on price," said Mr Kaiser, "what we are going to do is point out to gamers that PC games tend to be significantly less expensive than Xbox or PlayStation games as a publisher does not have to pay royalties

"The initial outlay of cash is going to be higher but in the end it is probably going to even out for someone who buys more than a couple of games."

But gamers may be deterred from splashing out for the PC console by another factor. New hardware tends to become obsolete almost as soon as it hits the shops, while computer games are continually placing greater demands on memory and power.

A gamer can keep up to date by replacing parts of a home computer. But they will not be able to do this with the Apex machine, as it cannot up upgraded.

A company technician admitted that even some current games, such as Call of Duty, would be "a bit choppy" on the ApeXtreme.

But he tried to reassure gamers, saying even an entry-level machine like the one from Apex should last for four or five years, which is comparable to the life cycle of rival consoles.

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