This week, AMD announced its next milestone in digital entertainment with the AMD Live! PC, a media-centre PC designed to enable consumers to organise, distribute, share, and enjoy its content. OEMs participating in the programme include Acer, Alienware, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Gateway, HP, Sahara, and Tsinghua Tongfang.
The AMD Live PCs will have Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processors and the AMD Live Entertainment Suite, a collection of services and applications to enhance the PC experience.
With the new PC, customers should be able to stream music through their entertainment centre; view and share photos on the TV; burn recorded TV shows, videos, music, and pictures to a DVD or CD; or transfer the content to a notebook, MP3, portable media player (PMP), or personal digital assistant (PDA).
This will be possible as customers will be able to consolidate content in a central location and then easily access it through various devices. AMD has also announced an agreement with STMicroelectronics to develop high-definition networked set-top box solutions to connect to a desktop or notebook PC.
The software in the Entertainment Suite will include On Demand powered by Orb Networks that streams live or pre-recorded television programmes, photos, music, and movies; Compress, a tool that optimises recorded television content to save space; and Network Magic, to set up, manage, and secure the home network. There is also LogMeIn, a service that lets users remotely control their Live PC to obtain access to files remotely, and Media Vault, a service that can automatically back up digital content collections to a secure online server. AMD plans to offer users 25GB of free storage to store photos, home movies, and music collections.
One of the hottest spots in the consumer electronics market currently and in the projected future is the home entertainment centre. Most consumers currently have a collection of various products that may or may not function together, but it would be nice to have greater integration.
Last August, Intel introduced a Viiv line of computers that would incorporate quick on-and-off similar to other entertainment devices, 5.1 surround sound with optional 7.1 surround sound support, and automatic transcoding of media files. Viiv technology will be a platform using Intel's dual-core technology within the PC in addition to High Definition Audio, the Intel PRO Client LAN, and Intel Matrix Storage technology.
The bigger idea is that two Viiv-certified products will work together, unlike most products today, which require a lot of work to achieve interoperability. Viiv technology will be integrated in set-top boxes designed to match stereos and DVD players.
Both Intel and AMD will work closely with Microsoft's Media Centre edition, which will be incorporated into various versions of the forthcoming Vista product. Any advancement in interoperability is goodness in our book. Any techno-enthusiast who has spent time making systems work together knows that getting all the right lines into the right inputs, and getting all the software settings correct is more often a prolonged labor of frustration than a question of fine tuning for digital media enthusiasts.
By integrating various capabilities and creating a home media network, both Intel and AMD are advancing technology in the way that is most likely to make users upgrade their technology. For most home consumers, the PC is already fast enough (except where gamers are concerned), but with new multimedia capabilities, a new PC is more attractive. This is good news for Microsoft as well, which hopes to upgrade various customer segments to Vista as soon as it actually can release the product.
In the meanwhile, the competition between AMD and Intel is fierce and likely to get hotter. We expect both companies will seek to extend their technology innovations to standards. The problem with this is that consumers will need to know which technology they have, and as they upgrade various other digital media components, they will need to make sure everything else they purchase is compatible.
Competitive standards are a headache in consumer electronics. Just purchasing the appropriate writeable and recordable media has become a challenge. In addition, Sony has Blu-ray and Toshiba/NEC have the HD-DVD in competition for the next DVD standard, and that's just for the recordable media. There are also competing digital rights management (DRM) standards, and various Codecs for audio files as well.
Hobbyists will likely have several options, but mainstream consumers will not want to have to worry about the format of their content; they will just want to be able to use it or develop it in the comfort of their own homes.
We suspect that the market is going to get more complicated and uglier before it sorts itself out, and that's only going to hurt everyone's sales as a certain amount of the public will wait until the dust settles before they invest heavily.
We strongly, no, very strongly encourage the vendors to develop interoperable standards. It's in their interests to build fiefdoms they can rule, but it's in the consumer's best interest to make everyone play nicely in the sandbox together. Unfortunately, we suspect that day will be a long time in coming.
Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Joyce Becknell is research director at The Sageza Group, addressing strategic and tactical issues for clients located in Europe. She works with vendors, business partners, regional and local ISV and channel partners. Prior to joining Sageza, Joyce has worked as an industry analyst covering IBM, Sun, HP, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, and Compaq, and has worked for both Dell and Tricord.