Intel Launches New TV-Oriented SoC; Predicts TV Revolution

The fusion of the Internet and television, once thought to be as natural as peanut butter and chocolate, has proven to be a tricky problem for would-be content producers. Consumers have embraced direct downloads, but the concept of the television-as-interactive-device has never found traction in a shipping product. Intel wants to see that change, and has launched a new SoC (system-on-chip) family meant to give content creators and users a broader range of options and a better overall experience.

The new CE4100 series will replace Intel's older CE3100, which launched last year. Unlike that chip, which was built around a low-power iteration of the Pentium-M with a clockspeed of 800MHz, the new SoC is built around an Atom core and will be clocked at speeds up to 1.2GHz. The newer CE4100 should draw significantly less power than the C3100; the new SoC is built on a 45nm process whereas the CE3100 still used 90nm technology.

Block diagram of Intel's CE4100 chip - Bringing interactive HD TV to a set-top box near you?

The CE4100 also swaps the Intel GMA 500-based hardware in the 3100 family for PowerVR's SGX Series 5. Exactly what this means for a television isn't clear; but Intel will offer the PowerVR solution at two different speeds.

The CE4100 and 4130 will run the SGX Series 5 at 200MHz, while the CE4150 offers an "Extreme Graphics" option at 400MHz. The CE4150 will also offer an AV input option, which could theoretically be used to facilitate the application of image filters or for photo editing. The ability to hook a camera directly to the television, crop/edit photos or video, and then directly upload to the appropriate website could appeal to a certain market segment that's uncomfortable performing the same procedure on a computer (or who don't want to fuss with one). In order for even this basic concept to catch hold, however, OEMs like Samsung or Sony would need to develop simple, easy-to-use UIs.

Intel has a product development framework for TV-centric applications (aka widgets). The Widget Channel Technology Brief defines widgets as: "small Internet applications designed to compliment and enhance the the traditional TV watching experience and bring content, information and community features available on the Internet within easy reach of the remote control."

The concept has yet to catch on, despite the fact Intel and Yahoo jointly announced the creation of the Widget Channel just over a year ago. Device manufacturers have pledged to support the Widget Channel in future products, but none have yet materialized. To be fair, this may be because of the worldwide financial crisis; several large electronics manufacturers delayed their production of OLED televisions as a result of the downturn.

Either way, Intel is forging ahead, and it brought partners along to say so. "The architecture of Intel media processors provides a powerful and innovative platform to showcase Flash-based applications in a vivid way," said David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president, Platform Business Unit at Adobe. "Flash Player 10 combined with the performance of the Intel media processor and its support for standards such as OpenGL ES 2.0 offers a compelling environment for Flash-based games, videos and other rich Web content and applications." The companies expect Adobe Flash Player 10 to be available in the first half of 2010 for Intel media processor-based CE devices.

Actually games that use the television as more than a display may seem far-fetched, but the idea is on Intel's radar. Intel highlighted the 3D and HD capabilities of the new family, which includes support for hardware-level MPEG2, MPEG4 Part 2, VC-1, and H.264. Vikas Gupta, president of TransGaming, was also on hand to talk up the benefits of the Intel CE platform. "At TransGaming, we're in the business of enabling existing games to operate on alternative operating systems," said Gupta. "Since Intel CE processors run on Intel architecture, it's a fast and easy migration from the PC to the CE platform."

TransGaming has yet to field any major titles but has several projects in development; more information is available at the company's website. Gaming seems an unlikely "killer app" given the Wii/PS3/XBox 360 trio, but the right sort of casual game library and a low pay-to-play fee could catch on.