Toshiba's American foray into the home desktop market has raised
the stakes as well as some eyebrows
"The Toshiba Infinia 7200 is a bold stroke in terms of
design and functionality, and it is sure to be looked back on
as a pace setter in home PCs." Not exactly the sort of praise
you'd expect for a first product in one of the most competitive
personal computer markets in the world. Nevertheless that's what
PC Magazine in America said about Toshiba's first desktop offering
for the home market. More to the point it was Toshiba's first
new desktop PC offering anywhere outside of Japan for over eight
That same edition of PC Magazine also looked at IBM, Sony and
HP home models and had some nice things to say about each, but
the magazine chose the Infinia desktop as the "Editor's Choice"
- one of the highest accolades in American personal computing.
If Toshiba designers and engineers were flattered by this, it
is understandable. In a market as competitive as desktop PCs,
not many commentators would have put money on Toshiba leading
the pack when the company announced it's return to desktop computing
in the summer of 1996.
The future was mobile
Toshiba abandoned desktop computing in 1988, when it proudly announced
that the "future is mobile" - a standpoint that Visions
has documented over the last seven years. Indeed at the time it
seemed only logical. The mobile PC market was growing at rates
far in excess of desktops and taking an ever increasing share
of the total. Mobile technologies created revolutions in working
practices, for instance by allowing you to take a mobile PC home
with you. Home computers were unheard of. The word multimedia
had not been coined, the Internet didn't exist, and modems managed
a breathtaking 2400 bits per second.
Nobody could foresee the great developments ahead. Yet the technological
chains on the desktop market have been shattered by the revolution
in communications and multimedia. As connectivity has become ubiquitous
and the worlds of television, video, sound and telecommunications
have rapidly merged with the PC, it was only a question of time
before a home PC would successfully combine them all. PC Magazine
reckoned that such a machine should be "part-teacher, part-entertainer
and above all a member of the family
" and "
the Toshiba Infinia comes closest to this ideal."
From the very beginning the Infinia design was conceived with
home use in mind. These are not business models adapted to home
use. The colour of the casing, the curves and the highlighting
immediately remind users of their TVs and video recorders. The
InTouch module is designed with buttons and controls that are
familiar from fax and answering machines, as well as the radio,
TV, stereo and video. This is no coincidence because it is exactly
these functions which are integrated within the personal computer
via this unique interface.
InTouchTM and the optional InTouch Remote module are
the user's personal interface to his digital entertainment and
educational world. Whether checking for telephone messages, making
a call, playing a favourite CD or tuning in to TV and FM radio,
everything can be done with one-touch access. InTouch also tells
you how many messages are waiting and which station you are tuned
to. Finally, adjusting volume with InTouch is a synch- no modern
digital design, just a simple, old-fashioned volume knob to turn.
Most importantly, InTouch controls the Instant On functionality
which makes an Infinia so much like other household electronics.
This new standard, developed jointly between Toshiba, Intel and
Microsoft, will be part of the industry-wide PC97 specification.
All home models will have to meet this to get the acclaimed "Designed
for Windows 95" logo.
Instant On means that any functionality of the PC can be activated
within a second of start up - removing once and for all tedious
boot routines. It is no co-incidence that Toshiba's notebooks
have enjoyed something remarkably similar called Resume mode since
Where the InTouch module also comes out tops is its position.
Unlike many others it is not on the PC box, which often stands
on the floor or sits under the table. Instead it is on the screen,
immediately in front of every user. The LED or LCD display (depending
on model) indicates at a glance the status of the PC.
The InTouch Remote control allows you to do all of the above from
anywhere in the room, just as you do with your stereo, video and
TV. More innovatively it also functions as a wireless mouse when
you get down to some real computing or digital entertainment.
Toshiba's multimedia advantages
Toshiba's leap into the home multimedia PC market wasn't quite
such a surprise for some industry watchers. In 1994 Toshiba Corporation
founded a multimedia division to look at the opportunities offered
by the coming merger between personal computing, telecommunications
and home entertainment.
One of the first dividends of this work was Toshiba's leading
involvement in the DVD consortium. Now Toshiba holds around 80%
of the patents associated with the DVD standard. From the word
go, the DVD standard bore the hallmarks of Toshiba's multimedia
involvement. Time Warner, 6.25% of which is owned by Toshiba,
was the leading Hollywood proponent of DVD. This helped establish
the new standard as a consumer vehicle for films, the ideal replacement
for the worn-out VHS video standard. DVD was also clearly a long-term
replacement for Toshiba's CD-ROM business.
Toshiba's own consumer divisions also had a role to play. The
corporation's strengths in user- and home-friendly design, intuitive
usage interfaces and knowledge of consumer market tastes give
it an advantage over PC companies which have never experienced
these fickle markets. The acclaim for InTouch module demonstrates
this perfectly - even six months after it's launch. It's knowledge
of consumer electronics ensured that their integration with digital
computer technology was smooth and without problems.
At the same time Toshiba's mobile PC success had helped it understand
the technologies needed to make multimedia and communications
so easy to use. Innovations such as "InstantOn" were
born of the constraints that battery life imposes on notebook
In Japan Toshiba is a leading supplier of a wide range of home
equipment, Toshiba's design teams could draw on the experiences
of this highly competitive market as plans for Infinia were drawn
up. These were supplemented with US-based design work from Pentagram,
the design house which worked successfully on Apple Macintosh
and PowerBook styles.
Consumer face, PC inside
Technology freaks shouldn't however be disappointed by Infinia's
emphasis on image and easy use. The technology inside is a match
for the best on the market. A range of Pentium processors, matched
by the best memory, video board and hard disks around compete
head-to-head with all-comers.
But Toshiba is not content just to use the best of tried and trusted
technology. The use of Universal Serial Bus, known simply as USB,
is an example of the adoption a technology for the future. USB's
major advantages over traditional expansion and connectivity methods
are plug and play and so-called "daisy-chaining". This
means that not every external device has to be directly connected
to the PC. You can connect devices to each other in one long
chain. For inexperienced PC users who just want to enjoy the benefits
rather than learn the technology, USB is easy to use and trouble
free, exactly the goals Toshiba set for all Infinia models.
On February 3rd Toshiba America took Infinia a step
further, updating the top two Infinia models with the latest Intel
Pentium Processors with MMX Technology. At the same time the
CD-ROM drives were upgraded to 12-speed models and the modem was
increased to a 33.6 Kbps version. A "1" was added to
the number designations to indicate the new models.
For maximum multimedia amusement, a 16-bit SoundBlaster®
Pro with SRS®
3D sound and speakers attached to optional Toshiba monitors creates
the right atmosphere. The 64-bit S3 Inc. ViRGETM DX3D
graphics accelerator with 2 MB of 40 ns EDO video memory ensures
that the visuals match all expectations in whatever dimension.
All models are also DVD ready, with a DVD option available for
the US market since the beginning of March 1997. There are enough
slots for an optional MPEG decoder board as well, so that these
home PCs can also function as a DVD player to match the TV and
CD player functions.
PC, talk to me
In the Infinia range, the sound system and the phone functionality
are standard on all models. The modem comes equipped with full
duplex support and the software for the answer machine functionality
is part of the package. Phone calls can be made hands free, dialling
either via a screen console or using the numeric keypad on the
keyboard. This makes the Infinia the communications centre of
In the USA, software for various on-line services is also included
as well as the two most popular browsers, Netscape Navigator and
the Microsoft Internet Explorer. The modem is the key to all this
functionality and it can also function as a fax machine, rounding
off the communications package.
For advanced users Toshiba America now offers an InTouchTM
Video Phone option using Intel's ProShareTM Technology.
This software integrates with the optional Toshiba TV/FM Radio
video capture card to offer a complete home video conferencing
solution. It is even designed to work at the speeds that traditional
analogue telephone lines offer. It includes an NTSC analogue
colour camera to provide a 300,000-pixel resolution flicker-free
picture which approximates a 640 x 480 video picture.
Toshiba inside and out
Like many desktop models nowadays Toshiba's Infinia range is based
on motherboards of an Intel design. Unlike many desktops on the
market, much of the rest actually comes from the company whose
name is on the front. One of Toshiba's many advantages as a large
electronics corporation (see box) is the wide range of components
it produces itself. From CD-ROM drives, via memory chips, hard
disk drives, DVD drives, monitors, circuit boards, ASICs and other
controller chips, Toshiba Corporation has developed into a leading
manufacturer and supplier to many computer companies world-wide.
In a highly competitive market, it is perhaps no surprise that
Toshiba not only wants to sell the components but also the final
product. Many of the components inside an Infinia are as Toshiba
as the design on the outside. In contrast to the components, Toshiba
will not be selling the design advantages to third parties. Although
currently only available in the USA, Toshiba is researching the
market requirements and particularly specific national needs for
home PCs in many other parts of the world.
No European country currently has a home PC market comparable
to the US one. Yet one of the main advantages of demonstrating
these revolutionary home appliances at CeBIT in Germany was to
test European reactions. Their multimedia and communications abilities
make them ideal for the sophisticated and computer-literate US
home market. As European markets develop during 1997, Infinia
models will no doubt continue to be a major talking point.
The next few months will be decisive for the future of Infinia
in Europe. As PC Magazine wrote: "the PC isn't just for business
the PC is continuing to evolve into
an all-in-one home computing, communications and entertainment
Toshiba's Infinia is the most highly evolved of
this emerging species
and its abilities blur the line between
PC and TV." It is generally recognised that Europe lags behind
America in the adoption of new technologies. When Europe is ready,
the Infinia will be waiting.
US Specifications at a glance
||Model 7161||Model 7130
|Processor||200 MHz Intel Pentium with MMXTM Technology
||166 MHz Intel Pentium with MMXTM Technology
||133 MHz Intel Pentium |
|Hard disk||3.1 billion bytes (3.0 GB)
||2.0 billion bytes (1.9 GB)||1.6 billion bytes (1.5 GB)
|InTouch module||LCD version
|Memory||32-128 MB EDO RAM
||16-128 MB EDO RAM
|Cache||256 KB pipelined burst SRAM level 2 cache
|Video||2 MB 64-bit ViRGETM with 3D graphics acceleration
|Sound system||16-bit SoundBlaster Pro compatible with SRS 3D sound
|Slots/expansion||3 x 32-bit PCI and 3 x 16-bit ISA + 2 x 5.25" bays and 1 x 3.5" bay
|Ports||PS/2 mouse, 2 x USB, microphone, MIDI/joystick, speaker out, line-in
|Connectivity||33.6 Kbps DSVD modem, speakerphone and digital answering machine software, internet browsers
All models come in mini-tower format with keyboard, mouse, floppy
disk drive, Windows 95 and a range of home and education software
titles for the US market. The TV/FM Radio board is standard only
on the 7201 model.
The Toshiba Monitors are optional:
|17-inch monitor||15-inch monitor
|16.23-inch viewable image||13.78-inch viewable image
|0.28 mm CRT dot pitch||0.28 mm CRT dot pitch
|30 KHz to 66 KHz autoscan multifrequency operation
||30 KHz to 66 KHz autoscan multifrequency operation
|5-watt/channel stereo speakers||5-watt/channel stereo speakers
|Front-mounted integrated microphone||Front-mounted integrated microphone
|Headphone and ext. microphone jacks||Headphone and ext. microphone jacks
|Energy-star and MPR II compliant ||Energy-star and MPR II compliant