Viiv: behind the badge
Viiv. It rhymes with ‘five’ and it’s designed to put the PC at the centre of home entertainment. It encompasses hardware, software and services, and it’s aimed not just at the hard-core PC user but at the average digital-savvy, techno-literate family. What’s more, it isn’t a chip, a mere initiative or a simple product line – it’s a platform.
Like Intel’s mobile platform Centrino, it’s a signal of how far Intel has moved away from gigahertz marketing and into a brave new world of brands and values. Centrino came loaded with thoughts of power and freedom; the capability to work or play everywhere, connected and without compromises. Viiv isn’t just Centrino for the desktop – it has its own pitch to deliver. This time it’s all about networked PC entertainment without the stress. You can watch, play and listen to what you want, when you want and where you want, and it’s all down to PC technology. Put simply, Viiv is Intel’s engine for the digital home.
Of course, you need technology to power that engine, and Intel is harnessing its dual-core processors and next-generation chipsets to the task. But Viiv goes further. It also covers features such as the ability to stream audio to one room while watching video in another, or being able to switch the PC to an ‘off’ state without disrupting everyone’s entertainment, and it does so without forcing its users to take a crash course in home networking beforehand. It’s cutting-edge PC power with a friendly consumer electronics interface. It’s more than just a jingle and a badge.
This is why Intel has got other players onboard, including PC manufacturers such as Dell, Packard Bell, Sony and HP, software developers such as Adobe, Pinnacle and Ubisoft, and service providers such as BSkyB, Napster and Tiscali. Intel wants Viiv to be a complete package for the digital home. Will it succeed? To find out, we need to delve deeper into the thinking behind Viiv and into the components that make the platform what it is.
In many respects, Viiv isn’t trying to accomplish something completely new. Intel, Microsoft and various system builders have been trying to put the PC at the heart of home entertainment since the late 1990s, but with the exception of a few niche products all have failed. Some of the reasons are obvious: most PCs are too big, too ugly and too noisy to fit anywhere except the study and, while most users are now used to handling a PC at work, many still find them too difficult to use and maintain in the home. What’s more, the PC consumes too much energy, needs either noisy or expensive cooling systems to maintain operating temperatures, and can’t even be switched off at a touch of a button. And while the dream of the home server – storing and streaming music or movies to any room in the house – is brilliant in theory, in practice it’s a nightmare. No matter how much Microsoft tries to make wireless networking easier, setting one up with proper file sharing and security remains beyond the reach of the average consumer.
Viiv aims to fix that. In theory, the consumer can buy a Viiv system and know it will work with any other application or service that has the Viiv badge. It will be easier to install a home PC that can store and serve media, and it will be easier to get it talking to other Viiv-compliant devices. What’s more, the technology is built for smaller, more attractive form factors. For example, with its lower power consumption and heat output, Intel’s Core Duo processor will be right at home in a PC the size and shape of Apple’s much-envied Mac mini, yet still have the power to drive multiple media applications simultaneously.
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