Intel has plans for a product that futurists have long predicted: the combination personal computer-television.
Called the "Entertainment PC" (EPC), the device will connect with the TV and be controlled by a remote. It will surf the Web using a Wi-Fi connection and cruise TV channels, recording movies and shows onto its hard drive and downloading programs and music not broadcast on TV.
In short, walking from the den to the living room may now be eliminated altogether. Intel plans to make the EPC available in the second half of this year, with no-frills units retailing for less than U.S. $1,000.
"Intel is seeing that their area of strength, the PC, is increasingly becoming entertainment-centric," Yankee Group analyst Adi Kishore said. "They're saying, 'Why should we limit ourselves to the PC?'"
At its core, the EPC will contain a pair of Intel desktop PC chips with wireless-networking capability. Incorporated in these Wi-Fi chips will be router technology that enables the unit to connect to the Internet without a separate hardware router.
The EPC will stream video and audio to other playback devices throughout the home, including wireless hand-helds. The chips will provide surround-sound audio, a multi-channel audio technology.
In 2005, Intel expects to release a PC-TV chip called "Sandow," which will include a TV tuner that can receive high-definition broadcast signals. The chip will include built-in software that enables a Sandow-powered device to accept input from PCs throughout the home.
The Intel PC-TV chips are designed for Windows XP(R) Media Center Edition software, which contains numerous multimedia features, from photo-editing tools to music playback and file management. Most apt for the EPC, Media Center includes controls for operating a digital video recorder.
With the EPC, "instead of typing on a keyboard and moving a mouse around, most of the commands will be done with a remote control like you use on your television," Intel spokesperson Howard High said.
If Intel and Microsoft are successful in their bid to create a unified TV-PC, the unit could replace a passel of home-entertainment gear, like stand-alone DVD players, Tivo units, and parts of the home stereo system.
"In the past, we saw a very clear one-to-one relationship between format and device -- if you bought a CD, you played it on your CD player," Mr. Kishore said. "Now, by moving to digital formats that are device-independent, you're transferring that functionality onto anything with an hard drive. Your PC is increasingly becoming an entertainment device. All the PC makers are talking about how you can download and listen to music on your PC."
The EPC is "the convergence of the consumer-electronics arena and the computing arena," Mr. High says, "and the two industries trying to work out how to dance together."
By combining parts of the home-entertainment center into a single stack, the PC-TV device could, in theory, offer a greater range of choices to consumers at a lower cost. But it would have a dramatic effect on a number of manufacturers. When Intel began adding graphics capabilities into its high-end gaming chips, it prompted a consolidation among graphic chipmakers. At this point, only a few select graphic chipmakers remain -- the very high-end specialists -- where there once were dozens.
Likewise, Internet router companies could see a smaller market, as the PC-TV chips allow consumers to connect without an external hardware router.
Perhaps most dramatically affected would be companies like Tivo. If the Intel PC-TV chips were to become widespread, makers of TV-connected digital video recorders would be hard-pressed grow their market share.
This combination of PC and TV is not likely to drive PC sales, IDC analyst Loren Loverde said, noting the technology to combine these two has been available for some time. However, "it may help address requests from PC manufacturers to integrate the [video-recording] capability, and it will further the role of the PC as the central media device in the home." (Newsfactor.com)
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