Home entertainment center computers, even when you can control them from your couch with a remote (as the latest iMacs allow), are still too complicated for most people. Users are already fed up with PCs crashing, taking too long to boot up, demanding constant updating and getting infected with viruses at the drop of a hat. So they haven’t wanted them controlling and storing all their home entertainment.
Microsoft is building on their Media Center Edition of Windows, and their next-generation operating systems – Windows Vista – will update Media Center further, to support CableCARD. That technology will allow users to access all digital cable channels without having to use the cable-company- supplied box. it will also handle hi-def programming. Intel has their own answer: a hardware and quality-assurance platform launching early in 2006 and dubbed Viiv (pronounced Vive, with long i). Viiv PCs will use Intel chips to manage a user-friendly wireless network integrating video, movies, music and more. The digital sources are stored on a central entertainment PC in the living room and all of them are made available on a radio frequency wireless network to any room with a TV, computer or stereo system. Videos and stills from digital cameras can also be stored and distributed. The central PC works like a PVR, time-shifting TV shows (including HDTV) and playing back later, and it can also record music and video from the Internet and play them back anywhere in the home. Programming and controlling is intended to be even easier than setting up a VCR timer. PCs and other products using Intel technology, which meet certain standards for ease of use, would carry a Viiv label on the front. (This will include the upcoming Macintoshes which will also use Intel chips.) Intel hopes that by getting involved in the entertainment business it can guide Hollywood toward formats which users can view on their Viiv-branded PCs. Since they don’t make competing products of their own, Intel feels it has an opportunity to unite the technology industry in the area of home entertainment. They will spend about $300 million to promote the new standard.
New Interface Standard for PCs and Hi-Def Displays – A just-formed industry consortium back by PC and consumer electronics firms has introduced a new standard connection between PCs and their monitor or displays, to replace the old VGA (video graphics array) stands for Unified Display Interface, and is part of an effort by PC makers to have their products look and work more like consumer electronics devices. Both Microsoft’s Media Center and Intel’s Viiv can only work if the central PC with simple graphics technology can send content to hi-def displays and HDTVs. UDI brings the features of HDMI – including copy protection – to mainstream PCs, and it also works with DVI digital displays. It will also reduce the complaint of “too many wires!” with an all-encompassing solution making it easier to plug in all the stuff. The UDI SIG seeks more industry participants to refine the new standard, which manufacturers may begin using as soon as the second quarter of 2006.