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3/24/2006
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Best Bits: The Re-Emergence of Convergence, Part 3

There is a lot of competition to build the "convergent PC" that will be the hub of your media center -- but be careful not to get caught in the middle.

But let’s not forget AMD’s Live (which, coincidentally, rhymes with, “We’re going to crush Intel’s ViiV.”) In this version of the bizarre world of convergence, you sit before a box filled with AMD core components but, oddly enough, defer to Windows MCE for component qualification. Truthfully, the Live configuration is remarkably vague in strategic places among all its specifications.

For example, MCE is for sure, but Vista is also viable even though it’s now delayed until 2007. (That may not be a problem. AMD last said that Live would arrive in two phases, the first of which will probably arrive in 2007.) Your hardware must meet the Vista Premium logo specifications. (Wouldn’t do to use ViiV specs, would it?) A TV tuner is optional, as is any way to connect a Live system to your world.

Multiple Personalities
The likeliest choice for connectivity is, of course, Wi-Fi. AMD notes that 802.11g or 802.11 a/g is one possibility. But the manufacturers will have final say about the interface standard used. If that isn’t a recipe for sincere confusion, then I’ve yet to see one. It leaves open the door to a plethora of different interoperability standards that you may need to change (and pay for) any time you change computers.

Two systems make it twice as bad. If you install a family/media room unit and a master bedroom unit, say, this lack of specificity means that they will not necessarily talk to each other unless both computers are from the same manufacturer or, at least, use the same connectivity interface in the same way.

All of this may be moot, because AMD’s initial description of how Live will behave sounds very much like the original MSN set-top box with live links to TV content leading to Internet sites. That didn’t work the first time around. Now it looks like history, unlearned, repeating itself.

Ban the Spork
If you ask me (and, even if you don’t), after you’ve spent thousands of dollars on flashy, media-hyped, computer hardware to achieve ViiV or Alive status, you’re likely to end up in the long run with something quite a bit more conventional: A TV (of whatever ilk), with an installed CableCard, wireless interface, and a hard drive --all controlled by a remote device resembling what currently is being described as an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), but not so much PC as controller (Cell processor, maybe?) and not much bigger than a Blackberry.

Yes, I’m cynical. I’ve been through the entire personal computer revolution, from Altair to Zeos, and, each time there’s been an attempt to re-invent the PC to hype sales, things have always returned to one simple, yet immutable, fact: This is a computer, that isn’t. Apparently, contrary to the dreams of isolated thinkers in their tall white towers, even the geeks among us are relatively simple people who appreciate the difference between a fork and a spoon.

Bill O'Brien can be blamed for more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology topics. With his writing partner, Alice Hill, Bill co-authored "The Hard Edge," the longest-running (1992 to 2004) technology column penned by a techno duo. For more, go to www.technudge.com.

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