At the beginning of 2008, Intel CEO Paul Otellini made a commitment to focus the company's efforts on the consumer electronics industry like never before. The company projected revenue of almost $10billion for internet-enabled CE devices by 2011, which means that over a quarter of Intel's business will have to come from sources other than the traditional computer by then.
In an exclusive interview with Eric Kim, Intel's Senior Vice President for the Digital Home Group, we discover how a little computer processing can bring richness to all your consumer electronics devices. High claims indeed, but they come from the voice of experience: Kim is the man responsible for shoving Intel's name to the forefront of the consumer electronics industry.
TechRadar: The statements from Paul Otellini are clear: consumer electronics is a big part of Intel's future. How is Intel working to get into this space?
Eric Kim: The TV is the largest screen in people's lives and it's been the one to lag behind in terms of functionality.
There simply hasn't been the right platform to enable greater functionality. The TV and other CE devices have been highly optimized for playback only, so their application processing aspect is weak. Delivering a powerful media processor (the Intel Media Processor CE 3100) opens up the possibilities.
The key thing that the Internet can bring is an overall richness and the breadth of applications and services that are now available. The next stage for the TV and TV-related devices, such as set-top boxes and media players, is to complement their media playing functionality with true, unencumbered Internet [access] while also preserving the simplicity and ease of use of television.
Our silicon is based on the full x86 microprocessor core with a full software stack to provide complete compatibility. For the first time we're enabling full Flash 10 on the CE device platforms. Not just Flash Lite, which is the level today, but full web kit-based browser technologies, a full Java stack and a full open GL level of graphics for the CE platform.
We're working with Yahoo on the Widget paradigm. We think that the Widget is the best way for users to access Internet applications. It's very simple and TV-oriented, so consumers love the concept.
The iPhone is the best example of the successful use of widgets, and we're enabling a broad spectrum of third-party players, from major to small players, to bring their content and applications to the television. We're already showcasing various types of widgets from ABC, NBC, Flickr, MySpace, Cinema Now, eBay, and so on.
TechRadar: There's a huge focus on Internet TV access from traditional consumer electronics companies. What obstacles do you think manufacturers face when talking to the mass consumer as opposed to a computer-savvy audience?
Eric Kim: One of the reasons why Widget 5.1 took off the way it did was that there were so many choices…literally thousands of widgets so consumers could get what they wanted. You need that kind of breadth of choices on widgets for TV. The only way you are going to get that is by having a fully compatible Internet platform.
It's got to run Flash; it's got to run Java. This is so that the application providers don't have to write a whole new set of application code and they can repurpose what's already out there.
TechRadar: Wireless connectivity is obviously a key feature, even for the localised electronics of the digital home. Would you say current connectivity solutions are robust enough?
Eric Kim: Clearly Wi-Fi has become the de facto standard for home wireless so far. But we think, especially as HD video becomes the driving force, that you're going to need additional types of connectivity.
We're very much involved in a number of next-gen wireless technologies such as 60GHz right now. Basically, 60GHz gives you high bandwidth wireless, but in a shorter distance, so it's more of a personal area network solution. There are other options, such as Powerline networking and so forth. Powerline's great, but there are still some real issues with noise and the quality of service issue. Coaxial cable works fine, but who would want to lay a coaxial network across their house?
We think that 802.11n improves the bandwidth significantly, but in many cases it's not sufficient for HD. So, at least for a number of years to come, there's going to be a mixed solution. Intel is actually working with the industry to develop an entire networking architecture.
TechRadar: Do you envisage an end to the traditional PC – its complex functionality as well as the language used to describe and use it? Will the consumer see only a consumer electronics device and interface with it in a more CE-friendly fashion?
Eric Kim: I don't think PCs are going to go away any time soon. The fact is that PCs have become an integral part of people's lives. TV is very much 'sit back and relax' with our family and friends; very simple usage and no complexities… they're two different sectors.
Innovation on PCs is not stopping by any means. You'll see all of the cool innovation on PCs first and then it will trickle down to handhelds and TVs. A lot of people get TV-centric internet content on PC today as it's not possible to get that on the TV. But when it becomes possible, consumers will enjoy video content on TV, because it's more convenient and it's easier.
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