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Commentary: What Is Viiv, Really?

Dissatisfied with the catchall explanation "technology platform," columnist Peter Clarke wades through 12 Intel press releases in a bid for a better understanding and comes up empty.
LONDON — Viiv is a technology platform — but what does that mean?

“Technology platform” is a catch-all phrase, it lacks precision. It usually implies a mix of hardware and software modules but then most things in electronics are these days.

I scanned a series of 12 press releases put out by Intel Corp. to accompany the "launch" of Viiv and none of them said much about what it is — apart from it being a technology platform. Instead Intel describes Viiv in terms of what it would like it to achieve; saying Viiv offers "exciting new entertainment experiences" or support for "both a minimum of 5.1 or higher surround sound and high-definition video," and so on.

If Intel had aspired to Viiv achieving world peace — a very laudable aim — then Intel's marketing department would perhaps have written something like: "The Intel Viiv is the latest Intel world peace solution from Intel." It would then have found 12 companies or small independent nation states to endorse the idea of world peace. And voila! Viiv and world peace are launched.

My take on it is that Viiv is the specification for how to build a digital entertainment computer, which is pretty much the same as any other modern computer, but with enhanced graphics and sound, but for which vendors can't charge much. This is because it is to be sold as an alternative to what used to be called brown goods, serving as a combination of cassette and record player, video tape recorder, DVD player and set-top box.

The Viiv specification is likely to refer to some additional hardware and software modules covering areas of digital rights management and protection but the value and necessity of these depends entirely on how much “buzz” Intel can create around Viiv by dint of getting other companies to advertize the brand.

A key aspect of the Viiv specification must surely be the various lock-ins and lock-outs — patents applied for or granted — that serve to differentiate a Viiv computer from a "normal" computer or a digital entertainment computer from another supplier. This may seem somewhat artificial but it will be vital for monetizing the brand later on.

The Viiv specification is also likely to contain the instructions to the PC-building slave companies on how to pay Intel for the appropriate patent licenses and components and on how they should not consider undermining the Viiv specification by building to any other specification.

The Viiv specification will NOT threaten to cut PC slave companies off from access to Viiv technology or components if they should build to a competing brand/standard as this could open Intel up to allegations of antitrust law violation.

And finally a goodly portion of the Viiv specification is likely to be taken up instructing Viiv-complaint companies about how they should apply for a certificate of Viiv compliance, to whom they should pay the Viiv compliance administration fee, and where they can obtain the Viiv logo stickers for sticking on their products in an approved manner, which is also subject to Viiv-compliance testing.

Isn’t technology marvelous?