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Intel, AMD stumble toward the living room

Convergence is the key

Leaders at Intel and AMD are racing to deliver platforms by mid-2006 that allow consumers to share digital media between disparate devices throughout the house.

Both see a large untapped market in converging the electronic devices that clutter our living rooms. The companies stumbled as they presented initiatives this week for hardware/software packages that will help to merge data from television, internet, digital music and photos.

During his keynote address at the Spring Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Don MacDonald, vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, declared, "We will create the new normal for what consumers will accept for ease of use."

But when he tried to demonstrate a voice-operated remote control, it couldn't understand his request. As the audience started to giggle, he had to repeat the phrase four times, asking: "When is 'The Family Guy' TV show on?"

The system finally complied, allowing him to instruct a PC to record that show when it aired.

Likewise, AMD staffers displayed a similar system during competing briefings they held in a San Francisco hotel suite this week. But when a marketing manager tried to use a generic TV remote to navigate MTV's website on a television set, there was no effect. She suggested the remote may have run out of batteries.

Intel's system relies on PCs loaded with its previously announced Viiv technology, expected to launch in the first quarter of 2006. PCs running the system will be able to manage internet-delivered digital entertainment and let families share their own photos, movies and music.

The Viiv design is meant to scale from the 2ft range of a user typing on his laptop up to the 10ft model where users control their systems while sitting on a couch. Intel says it has deals with 40 content companies to verify their services to run on the system. Future partners will include providers of portable media players, digital media adapters, digital TVs, DVD players and routers.

Another link in the chain that enables Intel's digital home concept is finding a common means of sharing data between disparate devices, MacDonald said. Sophisticated users may install an ethernet network in their homes, but most consumers will use a technology like HomePlug, a technique of transmitting data over existing power lines and wall outlets.

In contrast, AMD designers plan to unite those scattered pools of content using middleware running on existing consumer electronic devices, such as a game console, DVD player or cable TV set-top box.

"There's been a question on whether this fight will be won by the consumer electronics industry or the PC industry? We think both are very good at what they do, and will continue to exist," said Suzy Pruitt, an AMD spokeswoman.

The company's AMD Live! offering is scheduled to reach the market in mid-2006. Its goal is to allow consumers to share their digital media throughout the house, between devices, without disrupting the TV-viewing experience, she said.

In this approach, AMD plans to partner with makers of consumer electronics devices. A desktop computer running AMD Live! will need dual-core processors, allowing one person to work at a laptop PC at the same time that her husband uses a television in an adjoining room to view photos stored on the same system, for example.

AMD has commissioned reference designs from STMicroelectronics, of Geneva, Switzerland. The design will use ST's STB710x single chip solutions for set-top boxes to deliver a high-definition cable, satellite, terrestrial or IP set-top box. When connected to a desktop or notebook PC via a home network, the TV experience can be transformed from traditional and "linear" to a new, interactive experience.


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