Intel TV – massive success or catastrophic failure?

A few months ago Intel and Mountain View laid a huge egg when they, along with Sony and Logitech, tried to market Google’s TV platform. 

This is the probably first time a technology partnership went so awry that it actually ended up costing the Logitech CEO his job – and Sony’s CEO announced his departure shortly after. This was because Google, as usual, didn’t deliver a complete solution and the end result was a really bad experience.  

Intel appears to have learned from this debacle and now realizes if something needs to be done right, Santa Clara should do it themselves.

As you may recall, Microsoft came to much the same conclusion and the end result was Zune, which actually illustrates how such a strategy can backfire. 

However, another successful example is Apple and the wildly popular iPhone, which showcases the positive potential associated with indigenous development. True, Apple and Intel are two completely different companies with disparate cultures, so assuming a parts company can easily do what a solutions company like Apple is somewhat of a stretch.

Then again, I do think Intel may have a good idea with its recent effort to create a TV service. But will it work?

What Intel Can Do

For some time now, Intel has successfully demonstrated it is capable of executing new consumer initiatives with existing technology. For example, they can upscale real time from standard definition to high definition, changing older programs into vastly better experiences in real time. In addition, and we’ll come back to this, Intel streams in standard definition, while giving consumers a high definition experience – opening up more homes to streamed video without bringing networks to their knees.  

In addition, Intel can take 2D programs and transform them into 3D content. Similar to HD, the technology starts with a much smaller file than streaming 3D (which is generally HD and 3D), while still providing an equivalent experience. Essentially, this means that folks with 3D TVs who are struggling for content can “transform” their 2D movies into a 3D experience using Intel technology.

Finally, Intel is capable of bringing a vastly more open ecosystem with an app store to TVs. For example, think of all your favorite mobile games upscaled to HD and played on your big screen. Now, depending on what platform Intel uses (I’m guessing Android), they would have access to an entire gaming portfolio, allowing them to pick titles that would be stunning in HD, 3D or both.   

The Secret Sauce

However, the secret sauce would be on the hosting side of the service. One of the major current issues with streaming is that providers can’t be sure what they are streaming to and have to cover a wide variety of technologies. Meaning, most of the time they are actually streaming programs in native form. Think massive programs if we are talking HD-3D – which is why they can’t often do it. Even HD, given network constraints, is frequently an iffy experience.   

But if Intel knows what is on the client side of the process – because they built it – they can optimize and target the stream for the appropriate technology. As such, they should be able to create optimally compressed streams – assuring the user receives not only the best looking content, but a stream that takes up the least amount of bandwidth. This would help relieve the growing stress faced by networks, while providing 3D and HD programing to homes that simply don’t have the bandwidth today. 

In addition, Intel could also do some interesting things in terms of shared programing with both client and host. Years ago, in collaboration with Microsoft (who eventually killed their part of the project), Santa Clara and Redmond created Chrome Effects – where the information for a render was generated by the host but rendered on the client side. This technology created the potential for extremely low bandwidth HD programs, which could theoretically be used for lower performance products like smartphones and tablets powered by Intel’s x86 processors.   

One potential result? A platform capable of transforming Intel based post-PC products – such as tablets and smartphones – into market leaders.

Wrapping Up: Promise and Problems

The promise for something like this is no less than the total transformation of rich on-line media for Intel based TVs, set top boxes, PCs, tablets, and smartphones. However, the problem is twofold: Currently, Intel isn’t in in 3 of the four above-mentioned categories, at least not in terms of any real numbers. So without the clients in place, it will be quite difficult for Santa Clara to showcase the benefits. Remember, Intel is a parts vendor and their service history is nothing less than horrid.

Of course, there is yet a third problem: Much like with Microsoft’s Zune and Xbox, Intel’s partners could view their TV initiative as a competitive move, prompting a pullback from Santa Clara – which would benefit both AMD and ARM vendors like Nvidia and Qualcomm.