CES 2011: Hands-on with the $400 HP DreamScreen 400

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Note: This DreamScreen 400 all-in-one is of no relation to the HP product that also bears the DreamScreen name, which is nothing more than an enhance digital photo frame.

HP’s new DreamScreen 400 is one of the best-designed touch desktops to come along in a while. Running a custom Linux distribution, the DreamScreen 400 has a UI designed from the ground up around touch. It’s quick, responsive, and comes pre-loaded with the hottest movies, music and programs. The downside? You’ll probably never see it.

The HP DreamScreen 400 is targeted at emerging markets only, and the first market chosen is India.  HP has said that the DreamScreen has received significant interest from both consumers and other markets, but there are a number of stumbling blocks that need to be overcome before the DreamScreen can be launched anywhere else.

Most of those issues center around rights managament and access to the pre-installed content that comes with every DreamScreen purchase.  For the India-centric 400, that means two dozen of the hottest Bollywood blockbusters from the past year, in addition to some current chart-topping music.  

That’s a lot of content to come for free with a computer, and certainly something that’s essentially unheard of in the West. HP said that users can listen/watch the content as many times as they want for as long a period of time as they want; there isn’t any kind of expiration date.

There’s also free educational lessons and help that come with machine, as well as video teleconferencing software, applications designed to help families communicate with themselves and relatives and dozens of other web-centric apps. One very interesting feature is the telepresence worship opportunities that the DreamScreen offers; it’s often difficult to attend religious services in India for a variety of reasons, and the machine taps into televised live broadcasts of temple services around India, giving families the opportunity to participate in many different worship services from the comfort of their own home.

In addition to the problems posed by the content management rights, HP has to negotiate how to offer the DreamScreen 400 to other customers – in India, the cost is subsidized by the telecom companies, who can offer it on contract and then count on revenue from new Internet subscription customers to make up the cost.

What is that cost?  A little over $400. While that seems steep for an India-oriented, lower-powered Linux device, the DreamScreen does come with a nice, responsive screen and a lot of software. Add in the fact that ISPs are subsidizing the device, and HP’s newest experience becomes a lot more interesting and available to modern Indian consumers. Whether it’s successful is anyone’s guess, but HP is watching it all with a great deal of interest.

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