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Intel CE Network Plots Course For IPTV Devices

New York — Looking to spread the word on its rapidly advancing interactive consumer electronics initiatives, representatives from Intel, Alticast and TiVo met with members of the press here Thursday to reveal developing plans for Blu-ray, Tru2way and other IPTV technologies in forthcoming consumer electronics products.

At the heart of the effort was the 14-member Intel Consumer Electronics Network which was formed last August to rapidly develop cost-effective platforms of interactive applications and CE “Widgets.”

Intel’s so-called Widget Channel in TVs, Blu-ray players and other set-top devices revolves around a connectivity middleware framework that blends the typical linear broadcast viewing experience with a Widget-based Internet services experience. The two are blended together in an easy-to-navigate user interface for the consumer.

Services that will be made available through the Widget Channel include movie downloads, news, weather, finance, sports, etc. Most of the types of services available are presented to the end user through some form of video, so that someone watching sports, news or finance programs on TV, for example, could pull up ancillary data on screen from the Internet while the broadcast continues.

The members-based Intel CE Network community of companies is focused on bringing platform solutions to market and includes hardware, software and services companies, all of which get access to Intel technologies, roadmaps and platforms when they are first made available to help align development efforts.

To illustrate the effectiveness of the effort, Intel pointed out that network members Alticast and Videon Central were able to quickly turn around a Blu-ray reference design after Intel announced its CE3100 system on a chip last year, said Kevin Hattendorf Intel Consumer Electronics digital home group platform marketing director.

Illustrating the growing popularity of Internet based video watching, Intel’s Hattendorf said the Intel Network is looking to lead the industry’s move into the CE 3.0 phase, where interactivity becomes an integral component of the consumer electronics experience.

To illustrate the direction, Hattendorf pointed to independent studies showing that in 2011 160 million households worldwide will be watching video from the Internet, and in May 2008 more than 115 million users in the U.S. alone were watching Internet video, he said.

What makes that important to Intel, he said, is research showing American’s still use their TV sets five times more than they use the Internet, making a merger of the technologies inevitable.

To help harness the Internet in CE devices, the CE3100 was Intel’s first system on chip (SoC) designed specifically for consumer electronics, targeting digital televisions, set-top boxes and Blu-ray Disc players.

The chip included an Intel architecture core with additional CE components including a strong graphics engine, high-definition video processing, and high fidelity audio.

For 2009, Intel is working on a next-generation CE SoC codenamed “Sodaville,” which will use Intel’s Atom core and 45nm technology, with further details to be announced later.

To leverage the CE3100 and other processors Korea-based Alticast develops firmware and middleware that are open-standard solutions based on Globally Executable MHP (GEM) and JAVA standards for Tru2way bi-directional CableCard systems and BD-J interactivity on Blu-ray Disc players, including BD-Live functionality, respectively.

Videon Central is a middleware developer for Blu-ray Disc players and other devices. Its programs for Blu-ray Disc players serve as the foundation for the Alticast inter-active firmware layer for BD-Live, Widgets-based services and other interactive features.

Alticast targets its software at CE manufacturers looking to add interactive TV solutions at a reduced time to market and lower cost, and to cable TV operators looking for interactive platforms that will enable differentiated functions and services from satellite TV systems, at a reduced cost.

Key customers to date for Alticast include Samsung, Best Buy/Insignia, and Sherwood, which are using Alticast middleware combined with Videon Central firmware in Blu-ray Disc players.

In cable TV, Alticast is working with Time Warner Cable and Comcast on Tru2way devices.

Alticast said it expects to launch with more Blu-ray and Tru2way customers in 2009, using Intel’s CE3100 system on a chip processing.

Alticast also has a joint development agreement with TiVo to bring Alticast interactive middleware solutions to TiVo Tru2way interactive cable TV products.

TiVo is deploying its PVR software in existing cable boxes in some of Comcast’s New England regions. It plans to expand that effort into the cable operator’s Chicago markets this summer. TiVo is porting its software to Alticast’s interactive middleware system, the company said.