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AMD pushes Active TV at Cebit

Viiv-competitor links TV to PC in the home

Claiming it has forged a new link for consumers who want to connect their TVs and PCs, AMD announced at Cebit today that it’s designed a mix of technologies that solve the perennial challenge of converging the computer and the TV.

The system, called Active TV, allows a user armed with only a remote control to pull content from a PC in another room to their TV set using home networking technologies such as the 802.11g/n wireless standards or Powerline standard, said Graham Kinahan, strategy and business development manager of the desktop division at AMD.

One hitch is that viewers will need a television or connected device like a set-top box, DVD player or game console loaded with specialised software. AMD said those Active TV-enabled boxes and sets will go on sale in Europe and the US later in 2007.

The software allows that device to use the processing power of a notebook or desktop PC running either Microsoft Windows XP or Vista and a web browser plug-in that serves as a visual interface on the TV set. A viewer navigates that interface by sending infrared signals from a handheld remote to the set-top box, which communicates with the PC over the home network.

In practice, the system allows a viewer to tap many choices beyond the usual cable TV channel package, choosing from music, video and photos stored on a PC hard drive or delivered over an internet broadband connection.

If AMD is successful, Active TV would be an important tool for competing with Intel's convergence technology, called Viiv. Both companies have stumbled in efforts to design a product that resonates with consumers. Many buyers are reluctant to pollute the simplicity and instant operation of a TV with the frequent maintenance and slow boot-up time of a PC.

AMD hopes that the vast pool of content available on the internet can persuade consumers to try again, and also buy more chips. AMD says the viewing experience is best with a multicore processor such as the Athlon 64 X2 chip for desktops or Turion 64 X2 chip for notebooks, although Active TV works on any current Windows PC configuration.

AMD's open-standards approach could help it get a leg up in the marketplace, one analyst said.

"In previous standards put forth by Microsoft and Intel, the PC had to be the centre of the home, and to get the best experience it had to be hard-wired, which meant the PC had to march into the living room, which just wasn't happening," said Toni Duboise, senior analyst for desktop computing with Current Analysis.

AMD also has leverage to push its new technology into the marketplace since the company acquired ATI, Duboise said. ATI's Xilleon processor is in many TVs sold today, and AMD says its Active TV middleware will be included in ATI reference designs by the end of 2007.

Despite those advantages, the biggest prohibition for any convergence system is that home networking is not yet ready for mainstream users, she said. Both ease of use and deployment rates fall far short of the simple plug-and-play that is needed to appeal to mainstream buyers.

A processor vendor cannot wire homes with networks, but AMD will try to simplify the experience of building a home media hub by pushing its brand label that marks the components that work well together. The brand, called AMD Live Ready, is a sticker that consumers can recognise as they assemble a digital entertainment system with parts like a portable media player, TV tuner card, external hard drive, web camera, set-top box, digital media adapter and router or home-networking device.

Cebit officially opens tomorrow.

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