Intel plots TV domination

IDF Summer 2008: With Yahoo's help, Intel plans to put a chip in every TV

Eric Kim Intel TV

Intel's Eric Kim laid out a new vision for the future of the TV today at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. It was compelling, exciting and at the same time ominous.

Intel's vision is essentially two-pronged. Unsurprisingly, Intel will be providing the hardware in the shape of its new Media Processsor CE 3100. It's a 150 million transistor system-on-a-chip design with integrated video decoder, 3D graphics core and x86 compatible CPU core derived from the Pentium M.

Yes, it's Yahoo

The software side is provided by Yahoo's new Widget Channel platform, as we reported earlier today. Think of it as a Yahoo Widget dock for your TV and you'll get the idea.

Put the two together and you have a fusion of TV and internet that might finally work. Intel's Kim reckons it represents the breakthrough the consumer electronics industry has been waiting for. If successful it will mean Intel silicon in millions upon millions of TVs.

Unlike previous efforts such as Microsoft's Media Centre initiative, this latest drive to introduce internet capabilities doesn't attempt to fundamentally alter the TV watching experience. Instead, the focus is on enhancement.

For the end user, the upside is simple access to a wide range of Yahoo and third-party developed internet enabled Widgets including the likes of Flickr, Twitter, Blockbuster and other big, well known brands. The Widgets themselves are slick, unobtrusive and easy to use.

Key to the Widget Channel philosophy is that the widgets can be used without interfering with TV playback.

Developer opportunities

From the developer's point of view, the Yahoo Widget platform provides a stable and established environment, something that has been lacking in previous attempts to bring internet services to TV sets.

But the really momentous opportunity is for content providers and advertisers. To prove it, Intel's Kim wheeled out a number of dignitaries from leading media companies including Comcast, Sony and Disney ABC.

From an advertising perspective, the Widget Channel will enable advertisers to combine the targeted, interactive addressability of web ads with the impact, scale and reach of TV ads.

For content providers, the Widget interface will enable new ways to encourage viewer involvement – and startlingly efficient new methods for fleecing viewers of their cash.

Reality TV

A typical example would be the pseudo-reality talent shows that dominate TV schedules today. With Widget technology, the content provider can create custom Widgets, perhaps allowing viewers to sign up once and then participate for the rest of the season.

And in reality TV land, participation is often a euphemism for premium voting services. No wonder the chap from Comcast was so very excited.

Courtesy of the Intel CE 3100 processor, the platform also has technological advantages over previous set top boxes and smart TV technologies. Along with support for multiple simultaneous HD streams, the chip is capable of full-motion fast forward and rewind. It also leverages the OpenGL API to use 3D effects to enhance the display interface.

All in all, it's a much slicker and more plausible package than any we've seen before.

Devil in the details?

For now, many of the details remain unclear. Samsung happily sang the praises of the CE 3100 chip during Kim's keynote. But it's not clear how many further set top box and TV manufacturers are on board.

We also don't know what operating system underpins the project. Yahoo's Widget platform is currently restricted to Apple and Microsoft operating systems, but we've a feeling that there's a Linux distribution of some sort lurking underneath those slick Widget animations.

Moreover, it's not clear exactly who will have control over the platform. Intel and Yahoo have presented it as completely open. Yet the Widget platform is obviously Yahoo's baby. And how much control might the content providers demand?

But despite all those open questions, we remain convinced that we saw the future of TV today. And we kinda like it.