Intel Out To Revolutionize TV With Atom SoC

Kim, a senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, took aim at the very near future of television and introduced the next-generation Intel Atom-based CE4100 media processor for set-top boxes and other consumer electronics devices. Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, poked further into the future, talking up long-range TV-related developments at Intel Labs and showcasing 3-D video from up-and-coming 3ality Digital.

A year ago at the same venue, Intel and Yahoo turned some heads with their collaboration on the Widget Channel, an application framework for television that proposed a new and simpler way of integrating PC functions into TV viewing. A nice idea, but one that was clearly in the early stages of development.

What a difference a year makes -- Thursday's presentation could be described as home integration on steroids.

Kim kicked off his keynote with a concept demo that had him and a friend sitting in a "living room" watching Star Trek and video chatting with the offstage Rattner. A Flash-powered channel guide wheeled eye-poppingly on the giant IDF display as Kim and company picked shows to watch, record for later or recommend to friends.

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The "friend" turned out to be actor LaVar Burton, best known as engineer Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." A nice touch, but the real upshot from the demonstration was that all the hardware and software parts that made it happen are "available now," according to Kim, and the whole experience could be delivered to consumers in as little as four months.

Adobe's Flash Player 10 release will be crucial to the realization of such TV products, Kim said, as will other components built by a parade of technology partners that Intel ushered on stage for interviews Thursday. And at the heart of it all will be the CE4100, which is half again as large as its predecessor, the CE3100 System-on-Chip (SoC) that Intel released a year ago.

Intel's CE4100 platform is built around a 45-nanometer, 1.2-GHz Atom. The platform improves upon the CE3100 with an integrated NAND flash controller and the ability to decode two HD 1080p video streams. The soon-to-be-released CE4100 media processor also supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory.

Rattner took a longer view in following on from his colleague. Intel's chief technologist predicted that by 2015, the world would have "15 billion consumer devices capable of delivering TV content with billions of hours of video available."

The challenge, he said, will be in developing "sophisticated ways to organize content and provide it on demand." Conveniently, researchers at Intel Labs are working on that very thing right now, according to Rattner.

High-quality 3-D video is another promising technology, he said. To prove it, Rattner dedicated a chunk of his keynote to discussing Intel's Light Peak high-speed optical I/0 project with Howard Postley, the chief technology officer at 3ality Digital, a Burbank, Calif.-based producer of 3-D entertainment.

That interview had its own twist -- Rattner was on stage, while Postley's part of the conversation was filmed by 3ality Digital in the hallway outside and piped in realtime to the stage as a life-size 3-D image.