Intel flips channel to consumer electronics

Intel flips channel to consumer electronics

Intel was stepping deeper into the consumer electronics market, hoping to put an Intel chip inside a plethora of home entertainment devices including televisions, portable media players and PCs designed for the living room, Intel’s president and chief operating officer, Paul Otellini, said.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Otellini shed light on Intel’s plans to enter the digital television market later this year, reports of which surfaced last month.

Intel would manufacture a line of liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) chips codenamed Cayley that would find their way into rear-projection televisions by the end of 2004, Otellini said.

The company hopes its chips will allow television vendors to sell thinner and cheaper rear-projection televisions, reducing the cost of a single television by moving much of its electronic complexity into silicon.

Otellini demonstrated a digital television that used a LCOS chip developed on an older generation of Intel’s process tech­nologies.

The LCOS chips that Intel is developing are less complex than the Pentium 4 or the Xeon chips that Intel turns out in large volumes, executive vice-president for market research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources, Paul Semenza, said. Essentially, the silicon was dressed in layers, with a simple circuit providing the base for a layer of a highly reflective material, another layer of liquid crystal, and a top layer of coloured glass on top of the chip, he said.

Drawing the circuit would not be a challenge for Intel, Semenza said. But the implementation of the top layers could be tricky. It was not a technique that Intel had a great deal of experience in manufacturing.

Texas Instruments (TI) currently dominates the market for rear-projection digital televisions with its digital light projection (DLP) technology, but LCOS will produce sharper images at a lower price, according to Otellini.

By 2005, consumers would be able to purchase a 50-inch LCOS television with Cayley chips for under $US1800, he said.

This was about two to three times less than a current 50-inch rear projection television would cost today, Semenza said.

Intel’s entry into the market should help expand the overall market, as well as drive prices of these televisions down to more affordable ranges for consumers, he said. There was a great deal of competition, however, in TI and other makers of miniature liquid crystal display (LCD) rear-projection chips such as Sony and Seiko Epson.

Intel’s ability to add other types of PC technologies into these televisions, such as applications processors or memory, could set it apart from other companies in this market over the long term, Semenza said.

Intel also hopes to popularise a new PC design it is calling the entertainment PC.

Last month, Gateway released an early version of the concept, which calls for a PC that looks like a component from a traditional home entertainment centre.

Intel incorporated some of the technologies that it has discussed over the past year into its entertainment PC reference design, including Azalia, a next-generation audio standard for PCs, and Grantsdale, a forthcoming chipset that will allow desktop PCs to become wireless access points. Products based on the reference design should start hitting the market in mid-2004, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Desktop Platform Group, Louis Burns, said.

The company envisioned a mainstream configuration of the entertainment PC would cost about $US800, he said.

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