Riding the digital wave

Riding the digital wave

While a typical motherboard discussion may include socket numbers, cooling and power issues, today's manufacturers are livening up the chat by peppering the lingo with the types of component needed to make an impression in the digital home.

With a growing amount of digital content making its way into the living room, component manufacturers such as Gigabyte and Asus are unearthing new and improved ways to design components powering the devices of today and tomorrow, according to Gartner hardware analyst, Andy Woo.

Shrinking margins and the difficulty in differentiating product lines mean industry players need to look beyond the traditional desktop and rise above the sub-$1000 notebook category. One answer is to go after emerging market opportunities and make a buck from lifestyle and entertainment applications.

"The whitebox market is feeling the heat," Woo said. "It used to be price competitive but not anymore because the multinationals have slashed costs. Given the environment, many players are looking to the home environment and rolling out technology that fits into the digital living room."

From small form factor PCs and Media Centers to a host of digital entertainment and security devices, there are many markets to consider. "Components catering to the digital environment including digital TVs, cameras and game consoles are big growth areas," Woo said. "Many vendors, including motherboard manufacturers, don't want to be behind the eight ball."

So where's the action in the world of components? Many of the main motherboard players, for example, are rolling out Intel Viiv motherboards to cater to the digital home platform.

"Given it's an ecosystem, the Viiv platform is opening up new opportunities for hardware, software and content providers," Woo said.

A long way to go

While the digital concept has big growth opportunity, he warns industry players to cool their jets - at least for the time being. Media Center PCs today capture less than five per cent of the overall PC market.

"The concept is still very niche, it is still version 1.0, and we have a long way to go," he said. "We're heading in the right direction in terms of the software and the hardware, but we still need to educate end users about the whole concept."

At any rate, vendors are getting their digital ducks in order, and designing a host of components from souped up motherboards to advanced graphics cards. Gigabyte A/NZ country manager, Alan Chen, said the whitebox market has plummeted by about 7 per cent in 2005, he said, and as a result the company was looking to break new ground.

"This is a big concern for us, and we need to generate new demand," he said. "We see revenue coming from the digital home and the multimedia PC entertainment arena, which features a PC, TV and recorder in one entertainment centre."

As part of its growth path, the company has launched an Intel Viiv technology supported motherboard, which supports digital media and entertainment platforms designed for the digital home.

Chen said the motherboard was designed for low profile entertainment devices that merge with the living room environment. Optimised for dual core processors, the new digital home motherboard features the Intel 945G Express chipset.

"This is set to change the way users perceive home PCs with its consumer electronics quality audio and video features," he said.

With an advanced graphics engine for high-quality digital video, the integrated hardware based MPEG2 decoding helps to free up CPU resources during demanding living room applications.

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