Powering consumer electronics

16 May 2008

Intel, which employs 5,000 people in Leixlip, wants to do to home entertainment what the Pentium processor did to the PC business over the past 30 years

Having been a driving force behind the PC revolution of the past 30 years, Intel now wants to enable the consumer electronics revolution of the next 30 years with microprocessors powering next-generation TVs, set-top boxes, digital video recorders, smart phones and games consoles.

The living room TV experience we all know as a one-way interaction is about to take on a whole new meaning as a two-way, interactive experience and Intel is working on a new generation of microprocessors codenamed ‘Canmore’ that will feature in a wide range of consumer electronics devices.

Eric Kim, general manager of Intel’s Digital Home Group, was in Ireland this week to visit Intel’s operations, which employs 5,000 people.

Kim, who in 2002 featured on Time Magazine’s ‘Global Influentials’ list, previously served as Intel’s chief marketing officer, spearheading the company’s ‘Leap Ahead’ rebranding. Prior to that, he was an executive vice-president responsible for making Samsung one of the world’s leading consumer electronics brands.

“Our basic vision is that as the world of internet becomes the ubiquitous platform for consumers to engage, interact and share, internet engagement will come to traditional consumer electronics categories as well.

“Today, the hottest area is the smart phone with internet connectivity and the ability to interact and engage on the go. We believe the next major phenomenon is going to be on television. Until now, TV has been a one-way, broadcast-oriented device. There’s no reason why it can’t be a two-way communications device with the ability to connect and share content and services in a ubiquitous fashion,” Kim says.

Kim explains that the fundamental advantage Intel brings to the table is that because the internet has until now happened largely on PC architecture and all software and content is developed on this architecture, the idea of moving this to a TV-optimised platform can be handled by the company.

“Right now, we’re making a huge investment in bringing the 100pc internet architecture compatibility to a purpose-built system-on-a-chip (SOC) for television.

“This was never possible before. This has required breakthroughs in silicon technology because Intel architecture is quite demanding and being able to deliver that in a power envelope which meets the needs of consumer electronics devices will be equally demanding. For example, if you’re talking about devices that will sit in the living room, they can’t have noisy fans or big boxes like the PC. These devices will need to be simple and elegant.

“Our Canmore chip is one of the most advanced microprocessors we have ever created. It combines the full power of the Intel microprocessor family with leading-edge audio and video capabilities.

“Expect it to go into products like TVs, digital video recorders and Blu-ray players.

“Hollywood and the TV business are moving towards giving the full movie and TV experience, plus interactivity. That’s the kind of capability our silicon is intended to deliver and combine with the internet for an even greater experience using content and services that engage with your movie experience. This will be the start of a whole new era for TV.”

Ireland, Kim says, will play a major role in the development of the new Canmore chip, having already ensured a speedy turnaround of a prototype of the chip in time for a presentation he made in January at the prestigious Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

“Canmore first left our design lab for manufacturing late last year and the very first chip was produced by Fab 24 [in Leixlip] at the end of last year. Fab 24 literally established new records in giving the fastest turnaround possible. It was simply amazing.

Fab 24, which opened in 2006 following a $2bn investment, became the first chip factory in Europe to manufacture chips using the 65-nanometre process.

“The track record of achievement at Intel in Leixlip is first class within the entire corporation.

“The first chip out of the factory in Leixlip was so good, I was able to demonstrate this to the whole world at the 2008 CES.”

According to Kim, the first Canmore-powered consumer electronics devices should be hitting the retail channel in the first half of 2009.

Kim says the aim is to harness the internet revolution and bring it to the living room. “The TV and movie world has had the benefit of observing what happened in the music industry. Now what’s happening is we are witnessing movie downloading and the phenomena of user-generated content. This will bring forth a revolution in itself.

“A few years ago, YouTube was nowhere. Now, it’s everywhere. Someone said recently that history happens on YouTube. They’re right. Future TV viewers will be fully in command of getting what they want, when they want it and will be able to enjoy it on a large, high-definition TV screen.”

By John Kennedy