Convergence Key to TV-Computer Links

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The convergence of television and the personal computer took a step closer to reality at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, as the heads of computer giants Intel and Microsoft introduced products that further the vision of a PC-centered, networked home.
For Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini, who were featured speakers at the show, the PC is king. The storied technology partners have yet to supplant the TV as the hub of home entertainment despite their best intentions, but they said the products they unveiled will make it easier to use the PC as the centerpiece in the living room of a connected home.
Mr. Otellini introduced his company’s Entertainment PC, a prototype of an all-in-one consumer box that plays music and high-definition TV and serves as a wireless media distribution center for the home. Digital photos, for instance, could be streamed wirelessly from a camera into the Entertainment PC. “It is a new category [of PC] created not for the creation of content but for the consumption of it,” he said.
The Entertainment PC is designed to replace the somewhat unsightly rack of audio/visual equipment and dangling wires that is often the focal point of consumers’ entertainment centers. Mr. Otellini said the Entertainment PC, to be produced by a number of manufacturers, will hit the market by the middle of the year.
Intel also intends to migrate its vaunted silicon into other consumer electronics devices besides the PC, such as TV sets and set-top boxes. Intel’s new LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology fits into Intel’s strategy to extend its hooks more fully into the home. LCOS technology makes large-screen TVs more economical.
Mr. Otellini predicted that in 2005 consumers will be able to buy a 50-inch high-definition television set based on Intel’s LCOS technology for less than $1,800. “This will change big-screen TV economics,” Mr. Otellini said during his session.
Intel buddy Microsoft has big goals to drive the PC-centric entertainment world. In Mr. Gates’ pre-show keynote address, he introduced the company’s new Windows Media Center Extender, which enables televisions to display content from PCs running the Windows Media Center software, designed for digital media and entertainment. With the technology, Media Center PC users can access digital content anywhere in their home, including photos, movies, music and TV, using a remote-control interface. That means users aren’t tethered to a traditional office PC anymore to watch that content, but can call it up in the more comfortable television environment of the living room.
“Windows Media Center is really the centerpiece of what we want to do in the home,” Mr. Gates said.
Microsoft isn’t the only company banking on Media Center PCs. ABC rolled out a one-screen interactive TV application on the Media Center PCs last week in conjunction with its Wednesday night show “Celebrity Mole.”
The program includes the regular two-screen, sync-to-broadcast interactivity that ABC has offered with several other shows and specials during the past year, but the Media Center’s one-screen capability is new, said Rick Mandler, VP and general manager of enhanced TV at ABC, reached at his office in New York. Microsoft is the sponsor of the interactivity and also demonstrated “Celebrity Mole” ITV content, such as trivia questions, user comments and voting, on Media Center PCs at the show.
`Appealing Platform’
“[Media Center] is a very appealing platform for us because it offers such robust development opportunities,” Mr. Mandler said. “If it gains traction and there is critical mass then it will be a big part of my ITV plans. You look at a set-top box and it has a fraction of the power of a PC.”
Broadband that embraces entertainment will also be at the center of a connected home. At the show, Mr. Gates unveiled a revamped MSN broadband portal as well as a new suite of broadband content geared for MSN high-speed users.
The free MSN Video Service offers streaming video from a variety of companies including NBC, Discovery Networks, Scripps and Showtime Networks.
The Consumer Electronics Association estimated that the 2004 CES show attracted more than 110,000 attendees and 2,500 exhibitors. The show occupied more than 1.3 million square feet of floor space.