Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 15/06/2004Intel is positively seething with new products, so it's off bright and early for their latest exciting offering. I'm told it's the new Grantsdale chipset, and that it's at an address somewhere in Acton.

Tuesday 15/06/2004
Intel is positively seething with new products, so it's off bright and early for their latest exciting offering. I'm told it's the new Grantsdale chipset, and that it's at an address somewhere in Acton. Acton?

It turns out to be in a very large shed -- apparently, part of a film studio's stage -- in the middle of Nowhere, W3. The sky is a stark, clear blue as I climb out of the tube station: the route to the venue involves walking along the great congested artery of the A40, past endless car show-rooms, low-rise malls and bleak 1930s industrial units. There are plains of rough grassland, there are seas of glass and brick: there are no people. As I trudge through the June heat, anonymous cars sighing along to the left of me and the thistles swaying to the right, weird electronic music on the iPod, it feels exactly as if I'm in a J G Ballard novel.

Later, a tall, blue-shirted figure appears through the heat haze. He is sweating but smiling and holding a piece of paper labelled Intel. "This way!" he says in an indeterminate northern European accent, pointing down another long, dusty road that cuts straight through huge, anonymous buildings. Clearly, some hacks have already been this way and got lost: Intel, nervous that its self-delivering prey might yet slip free, has deployed its outriders.

I arrive at the Intel launch, a little late but still under the near-hallucinogenic spell of the journey. Outside, Intel-brand flags flap unattended in the warm breeze: inside the huge soundstage doors, all is pitch black. As the PR ticks my name off and pins my badge on, my eyes adjust: there, in the distance, is a man expounding. I find a seat and settle down to watch.

The first susurrations of doubt began to finger my good intentions. Our man was giving forth on, dear Lord, the Digital Home. You will know all about the Digital Home because it has been a constant theme of nearly every consumer electronics maker for the past ten years. Active devices, big TVs, Internet access, everything linked, new era of blah blah blah. I thought I was coming to talk about chips: instead, I was getting pictures of dolphins in gliders. No, sorry, there were two video streams: one of dolphins, one of gliders. The man said they were coming from the same computer: no way of checking, of course, but what was clear was that… yes, there it went. The images were jumping every so often. Not very much, but noticeably.

And then it was time for the Big One. The Future Of Home Entertainment. The room went dark, a huge screen lit up, 7.1 channels of surround sound surrounded us, and Master and Commander thudded onto my retinas. Two things struck me immediately: it was very, very loud (standard hi-fi selling trick: louder sounds better) and what had been mild hiccoughing with the dolphins was a great spasm on screen. There was Russell Crowe on the big screen, jerking like crazy: I know that there are plenty of women who would pay good money for this, but as an advert for Intel's fabbo chips it was less than impressive.

The smoke cleared, and the house lights came up. I flicked through the press pack: marketing bumph on "A Manifesto for the Digital Home" -- 20 pages. Technical details on Grantsdale: two sides of A4. With no technical details.

I looked up. Man on stage was announcing an hour-long round table about, yes, the Digital Home. As the first invitee started talking about "e-tailing silver goods" I made my excuses and left, slipping gratefully back into the Ballardian hyper-reality of the Acton industrial landscape. Invisibility was never so necessary.

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