THE personal computer industry is moving ahead so fast that multimedia features in PCs have become the rule rather than the exception. But finding a machine with the ultimate multimedia features is still no easy task. Companies such as PC-maker Packard Bell have come close to manufacturing the ultimate multimedia personal computer - at least by today's standards - with new models that can access any multimedia feature with the touch of a single key or by using a hand-held remote control device. Dr Lim Huat-seng, vice president and managing director of Packard Bell Asia-Pacific, said multimedia computers would sell more in the home market than to businesses because of the 'edutainment concept and home appliances being merged together'. Packard Bell's new models look like CD players and come in both mini-tower and traditional desktop configurations. Called the Corner PC, they are wedge-shape so that they can fit into a corner. Those features would not necessarily make the machines attractive in the business market, but their multimedia capabilities would make them attractive to big users of presentations and desktop publishing applications. As more office software was released on CD-ROM format, multimedia PCs - with their high-speed CD-ROM drives and sound cards - could well become popular in a business environment, Dr Lim said. The new Packard Bell systems are bundled with more than 40 popular software titles, including an advanced version of the company's own Navigator application which is not to be confused with the Internet World-Wide Web navigator from Netscape. Also standard are a CD player and a telephone answering service. Some models include built-in television and FM radio. All models equipped with Intel's Pentium microprocessor are fully MPEG ready which, according to the company, is an industry-first. 'With these new models we see home machines improve to become a home-server,' Dr Lim said. 'It will be a control centre for the home that will help the user to access services like video-on-demand, home shopping, the Internet and other networking facilities.' With the remote control, Packard Bell owners can operate all the consumer electronic devices and applications built into their new multipurpose systems from across the room. A button on the hand-held controller initiates a phone call, retrieves phone messages, starts the CD or lets the user go directly to a software application. Because of those features, the machines may be ideally suited for the Hong Kong market. Using software from across the room may work in a typical Hong Kong flat, but may not be such a good idea anywhere else. The remote control itself is designed to fit the hand, and it has a cursor and command buttons that operate the computer from anywhere within range. For example, the Ch-Select display button can be used to scan phone messages, choose a radio station or CD tracks. Some traditional computer users may, however, prefer to use a keyboard and not ruin their eyesight trying to word-process from 20 feet away. When the user is sitting at the keyboard, Packard Bell's new Fast Media key offers the came convenient approach to accessing applications as the remote control. By depressing the key, a user can activate one of the consumer electronic devices and use the keyboard arrow keys to change volume and channels. 'We will see home multimedia machines move very well, and this new concept of home-servers will see computers able to operate all appliances in the home,' Dr Lim said. With the machines, Packard Bell has added Intels high-performance 120-mHz and 133-mHz microprocessors to the existing range of Pentium chips it uses in its PCs. The hard drive storage space standards start at 540 megabytes and increase to 2.1 gigabytes with eight-MB or 16 MB of RAM installed on various models of the PCs. Despite being embroiled in legal battles with archrival Compaq in the United States, Packard Bell welcomed the competition, Dr Lim said. In the multimedia market, competition helped both the vendor and the customer, he said, adding that while end users got better prices and vendors had to come up with better products, the end result was improved sales.