Intel on Thursday introduced an Atom-based system-on-chip as the platform for making the television the center for entertainment, social networking, and electronic commerce.
The CE4100, launched at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, is the first TV SoC that's based on Atom, the low-power processor the chipmaker hopes to develop into the chip-of-choice for handheld devices and consumer electronics, much like the Intel CPU dominates the PC market today.
At the same time, Intel is pushing a vision in which the TV takes on more PC-like functions that will evolve into a never-ending need for faster processors. Many of those tasks revolve around the Internet as a key source for video and music and the main medium for social networking.
Intel introduced the CE4100 as the foundation on which to run future TV applications. The CE4100 is roughly half the size of the previous SoC for TV, the CE3100, and includes a 45-nanometer Atom with a clock speed up to 1.2 GHz. The SoC supports hardware decoding of up to two high-definition, 1080p video streams, as well as the latest 3-D graphics and audio standards. The SoC has an integrated NAND flash controller for support of DDR2 and DDR3 memory to reduce boot-up time, and also includes a display processor, graphics processor, video display controller, and a dedicated processor for content protection. There's also general input/output technology for connecting processor and general input/output technology that can connect to SATA-300 hard disk drives and USB 2.0 ports.
Essentially, the CE4100 provides the television industry the option of leveraging the Intel architecture much like the PC industry does today. Among the key infrastructure applications that would sit on top of the Intel SoC for Internet-enabled TV is Adobe's Flash.
"We believe Flash will play a key role in shaping the TV interactive experience," Eric Kim, senior VP and general manager of Intel's digital home group, said during his IDF keynote.
Flash technology, which runs primarily in a Web browser on the PC today, includes everything from development tools to video players for creating interactive applications. Intel is working with Adobe to finish porting Flash Player 10 to the chipmaker's CE media processors. When completed, targeted for the first half of next year, developers can use the player to play graphics and video, run games, and access other Web content.
During his keynote, Kim brought out several Intel partners working with the company in trying to steer the future of television. Those companies include networking company Cisco, which also owns the Scientific Atlanta set-top box, CBS, andTransGaming.
For CBS, a major focus in the evolution of TV is to keep its programming in front of viewers with hundreds of channels to choose from. "People are totally overwhelmed by the sheer availability of choice," George Schweitzer, president of CBS marketing, said.
To direct viewers toward its products, CBS is working with Intel in developing small applications, called widgets, that would point to CBS content. "The shows are out there, but we need to make them easier to find," Schweitzer said.
Looking to move viewers away from TV programming is TransGaming. The company is working with Intel, an investor in TransGaming, to develop GameTree.tv, an on-demand gaming service. Based on Intel processors, the service would provide the user interface for buying and playing games. The service is expected to be commercially available in the second quarter of next year.
Following Kim's keynote, Justin Rattner, VP and chief technology officer for Intel, showed off TV-related technology under development in Intel labs. Such technology includes the ability to identify video content and use that information to provide options to viewers.
Intel's labs in China, for example, have developed technology that can identify and track players in soccer games. This makes it possible to, for example, let viewers review their favorite player's highlights, or draw information about a player from the Web.
Intel also showed off technology for a handheld device that would communicate with a TV, making it possible for the latter to identify the viewer. In this way, the TV could offer content, such as games, programming, and advertising, based on the person's viewing history.
Intel is also involved in the development of 3-D TV. During his keynote, Rattner introduced 3ality Digital, which is developing the cameras, image capturing and processing software, and other technologies for creating and showing video in 3-D.
During the keynote, an impressive 3-D concert video of the rock band U2 was shown. The 3-D effect required a special screen, different than the LCDs used in TVs today, as well as 3-D polarized glasses.
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