Intel CEO looks ahead to digital content world

The creation of digital content represents a huge growth area for companies willing to embrace the technology, but it's vital to have the necessary anti-piracy measures in place to secure content creators' intellectual property rights. That was the message being preached here by Intel's CEO and president Craig Barrett.

Part way through a five-day tour of Asia, Barrett addressed an audience of Hong Kong film makers and advertising executives here about the pros and cons of offering digital content and the ever-increasing importance of the Internet.

"Intel has a simple vision of 1 billion connected computers around the world plus 100 million connected appliances," Barrett said. "That's a huge business opportunity." He added that Intel estimates that there are half a billion potential users for digital content in Asia alone.

Barrett kicked off his speech with an example of how close computer-generated images are to imitating reality as a real-life model sashayed across the stage while her computer-animated twin simultaneously danced on screens above her head.

"You can see the history of movies as going from animated images to real people back to animated images," Barrett said. "It's very difficult [today] to tell what's real."

Special digital effects

The audience was then treated to a clip of an upcoming Hong Kong martial arts movie A man called Hero, featuring a huge array of special digital effects from a rain of swords flying through the air to a duel between the two main protagonists on the top of the Statue of Liberty. The film, due out in July, is a co-production between local computer animation and digital film effects company Centro Digital Pictures and Hong Kong film studio Golden Harvest.

John Chu, CEO and president of Hong Kong-based Centro Digital Pictures, said that around half of the workstations his company currently uses to create digital content are now based on IA (Intel Architecture), up from only 5 per cent of machines four years ago. "They are cost-effective, fast and flexible," Chu said.

Centro then showed how it developed a 20-second segment from the Statue of Liberty fight sequence in A Man Called Hero on a 550MHz workstation using two Pentium III Xeon processors and software including Avid Technologies' SoftImage and Adobe Systems' After Effects.

Barrett then asked for an invitation to the opening of the film and Chu joked that Centro needed to ensure that the Intel chief saw the real movie, not a pirated version of it.

The downside to easy access to digital content, for example, over the Internet, is that it could be intercepted by pirates and the content's creator would go unrewarded for their work, Barrett said. "It's an issue of fighting technology with technology," he said. "There are two separate issues - copy protection for distribution to the client and the ability to trace content for legal redress [for its creator] with a digital fingerprint or watermark showing the last source of the content."

Barrett then demonstrated a prototype security framework Intel has developed in its microcomputer research lab offering multiple levels of content protection over broadband networks.

The demonstration featured a fictitious VOD (video-on-demand) service based on the Internet where an authorised user logs in with their user ID and password. This basic first-level protection relies on Intel's controversial PSN (processor serial number) feature so that if the user passes their log-on information to someone else, the PSN will stop the other person from using that information to log in from their computer.

Intel announced in January that it would ship its Pentium III chips with a hardware ID number, the PSN. After the move sparked protests from groups concerned about privacy issues, Intel backtracked and said it would also provide software that would enable users to turn the PSN on or off.

When tackled about the PSN issue last week, Barrett reiterated the Intel line that it was up to end users whether they made use of the feature on their machines. "Let consumers decide," he said.

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