Intel, accompanied by a trickle of launch partners, today unleashed Viiv (rhymes with "five") on the Australian market. More of a platform than a product, Intel is hoping that Viiv will do for the lounge room PC what its Centrino brand has done for Wi-Fi notebooks.
|What is Viiv?
Digital Rights Management
What is Viiv?
Based around Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition operating system, Viiv-certified computers (read: machines with a Viiv sticker) will incorporate hardware components that Intel has certified as being fully capable of performing typical media centre tasks.
Viiv-based machines are designed to sit in your living room and be operated from your couch, so their core functions include storing, searching and sharing digital media files, as well as recording directly from a TV broadcast. The Media Center Edition interface enables these tasks to be carried out intuitively with a remote, as opposed to a keyboard and mouse.
The criteria that vendors must fulfil in order to have their products Viiv-certified revolves around Intel technologies, naturally. Systems must feature an Intel processor (Pentium D or Pentium Extreme Edition for desktops; Core Duo for notebooks), an Intel motherboard chipset, an Intel LAN chip and an Intel High Definition Audio processor. The audio processor must allow for at least 5.1 channel analog surround sound, or boast a digital SPDIF connector for hooking the PC up to a home theatre sound system. A remote control is optional.
Optima Vi4 Media Centre
Another requirement for all Viiv-enabled machines is that they support Intel's "Quick Resume" technology. Similar technologies have existed in the notebook space for quite some time now, and it's basically Intel's version of instant-on functionality.
Instant-on is a boon for lounge room PC applications, since it enables users to gain speedy access to multimedia files without completely booting into the operating system.
As far as the next-generation DVD format war goes, Viiv is agnostic and will support both the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray standards.
Curiously absent from Intel's Viiv requirements are a TV tuner card and a decent video card, both of which are considered mandatory inclusions for any home entertainment PC. Thus, just because a machine has a Viiv sticker, don't assume that it's great for gaming or TV viewing.
At the launch event today, Dell, HP, Acer, NEC, Optima and Pioneer Computers -- among other smaller vendors such as Alloys Australia, Altech Computers, Claritas Technology, Computer Alliance and MiTAC -- all put their hats into the ring, declaring support for Viiv. The first-up Viiv-badged designs vary between vendors, but range from all-in-one hybrid PCs that look like televisions, thin book-size form factors that resemble traditional home theatre components, and the standard tower designs seen on most conventional desktop machines.
While not present in the current iteration, Intel hopes to soon introduce the ability to stream content directly to handheld devices and networked PCs. According to the press release, it's planning to "add additional software features to ... simplify the set-up of certain devices in a home network, and the ability to transfer entertainment from the ... PC to verified networked devices including digital TVs, DVD players, set-top boxes and wireless routers."
Interestingly, the Viiv software will also be able to transcode and scale video files on the fly in order to cater to a variety of external devices, many of which require file formats and resolutions that differ from the default specifications used by Viiv.
In order to make this a seamless process with minimal user configuration, Intel is currently certifying a range of handhelds, displays, networking devices, DVD players and audio systems for use with Viiv-enabled machines.
Yet that doesn't mean that in order to take full advantage of Viiv's streaming capabilities, users will have to purchase new networking and home theatre equipment or go through the painful process of updating the software of their existing components. Rather, Don MacDonald, Vice President and General Manager of Intel's Digital Home Group told CNET.com.au that updates with device drivers will be delivered over the Internet directly to Viiv machines, and users won't have to install any software or firmware updates themselves.
Streaming of media to external devices will be handled by a separate piece of hardware called a "digital media adapter". These aren't yet available locally, but MacDonald told CNET.com.au that they'll be released sometime during the "second half of this year".
Computer Alliance Fusion Media Centre
Local partnerships with content providers will be essential for Viiv to take off in Australia, and it must be easily accessible from within the Windows Media Center Edition interface.
All of the above services have been integrated into the Windows Media Center menu system, so users can download and view movies, music and games from their couch using a remote control. Once new services are added, the menu will automatically be updated to incorporate them. However, this could be a time-consuming process, as Clive Mayhew, General Manager of Destra Music told CNET.com.au that potential content providers must go through an extensive certification process with Intel and Microsoft before being integrated into the Media Center menu system.
Intel acknowledges that this list of content providers is currently quite sparse, but Phil Cronin, General Manager of Intel Australia promises that Viiv "will in time allow you to access a whole range of content" from global sources.
"It's just a matter of time though.... Don't be impatient," says MacDonald. "You're dealing with business models that have been established for over half a century," he added, noting that issues such as distribution rights are currently slowing down the expansion of content available to Viiv systems.
Digital Rights Management
According to Don MacDonald, Intel's stance surrounding Digital Rights Management (DRM) is that consumers should be able to do whatever they like with legally purchased content. That means backing it up to external drives and streaming it to other devices such as handhelds and networked machines.
As such, Intel is encouraging Viiv content providers to allow users to pass their media to other devices -- a factor that's critical to the success of the Viiv concept. We were unable to confirm whether or not the current selection of content could be streamed seamlessly to external devices, but as mentioned above, this feature won't be widely available until the digital media adapters hit our shores later this year anyway.
Acer Aspire e650
Ultimately, though, MacDonald is confident that piracy won't be a significant issue for Viiv, as Intel promises to "make content easier to buy than it is to pirate".