Intel's brave new home

Intel Architecture Labs paints a picture of what's to come -- interactive games, cool graphics and lots of Net appliances

Intel believes one of the next frontiers for proliferation of computing devices is in the home, and it's unleashing a large portion of Intel Architecture Labs' research staff to exploit those opportunities.

With some 600 staffers, Intel Architecture Labs (IAL) focuses much of its research and development effort on creating Internet-based hardware and software for consumers and businesses.

IAL sees its role as that of enhancing the overall Internet experience. This role is crucial to Intel, because in pursuing this goal IAL will expand the use of Intel chips and technology beyond the traditional market for PCs.

Some IAL projects that someday could end up in your home include:

  • A smarter-than-a-PC set-top box that would allow couch potatoes to easily flip from TV to DVD to a Web browser.

  • A World Cup soccer game that lets TV coverage of the match be transformed into a 3D playing field complete with even a "ball's-eye" view.

  • Graphics technology giving Web sites the ability to animate product photos, allowing customers a more realistic view before they buy.

"Our focus, over the last few years, has been the end-to-end Internet experience," said David Ryan, director of technology marketing for IAL. "What are the barriers to realising the potential of the Net economy?"

One of those barriers is the slow Net access speeds that most Web surfers endure.

Intel's Connected Home effort is built on the hope that the arrival of broadband will whet consumer appetite for home networks. In Intel's vision, these networks will be populated with a variety of Internet appliances and powerful home PCs.

The way IAL sees it, many families already have at least one desktop or notebook PC at home and most own a number of consumer electronics devices. So why not connect them all? A home network would allow the multitude of devices to exchange information and access the Internet from a single broadband connection attached to the PC.

The PC isn't going anywhere. It will remain as the central repository for data, but it will be joined on stage by a number of other devices, lab officials believe.

IAL, in short, is working on a boatload of products that are outside Intel's traditional PC bread-and-butter PC markets. And that's a big change. The organisation was originally devised to help evolve desktop PC platforms to better match with Intel chips. Now it's an engine for expanding existing chip markets and developing new ones, especially in the home.

IAL research is targeting three basic areas: eHome, eBusiness and network services. A slew of products and services are on the drawing boards, including digital television, immersive video games, smart toys, and new kinds of Internet media and new methods to deliver it.

One example: Intel believes videoconferencing -- now a technology used mainly by corporate customers -- could be tweaked for home use, allowing, for example, a virtual game of Monopoly with relatives or friends via the Web.

Go to Pt II/ Broadband the key

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