Intel unveils 'Viiv' PC brand

Brand name for home entertainment PCs will be easy to recognise, if not to pronounce

Intel has come up with a brand name for home entertainment PCs that it believes will stand for the same quality experience promoted by its Centrino home technology, it announced at the Intel Developer Forum.

PCs with the "Viiv" (rhymes with five) brand name will start appearing in the first quarter of 2006, said Don McDonald, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, in a keynote address on Wednesday. No PC vendors were present to announce their support for Viiv, but McDonald said he expects several companies to be on board with the programme.

Like the Centrino market development programme, Intel will ask PC manufacturers to use several different Intel-produced components in Viiv-branded PCs order to receive marketing assistance from the chip maker, McDonald says. The Centrino brand requires the use of the Pentium M processor, a mobile chipset and Intel's wi-fi chips. In order to use the Viiv brand, PC vendors must use a dual-core Intel processor, an Intel chipset, a network controller made by the company and a software package from Microsoft and other vendors designed to meet user expectations for entertainment PCs, he says.

"If it can bring some new level of performance to products, it should be beneficial," says Richard Doherty, principal analyst with The Envisioneering Group.

Intel and the PC industry have latched onto consumer electronics as a way to stimulate the fortunes of the PC industry. Along with Microsoft, the companies have had some success selling Media Centre PCs that allow users to watch TV, download movies and play games on their televisions using remote controls. Some PC vendors also sell entertainment PCs, which are slim desktop-like devices that bear a greater resemblance to consumer electronics devices like DVD players or stereo receivers.

But analysts have warned that consumers have a much higher level of expectations for consumer electronics devices like DVD players and televisions than they do for buggy, virus-prone PCs. The thinking is that while users tolerate a certain amount of trouble from their PCs, they won't stand for the same experience while trying to relax and watch a movie.

Viiv PCs will extend the concept of the living room PC by guaranteeing a quality experience and improved performance, McDonald says. New cool-running dual-core processors like Yonah and Conroe will provide enough performance to stream video content to multiple rooms in a home, he says. A quick-boot process will allow users to push a button and start using the Viiv PCs instantly.

Intel will also use technology developed as part of its work with the Digital Living Network Alliance to create standards for entertainment PCs, says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies. This will help ensure that consumers purchase movies and other content that will work with their Viiv PCs, he says.

Intel's Centrino brand helped develop interest in wi-fi networks through a comprehensive marketing campaign, and all indications are that the company will have the same kind of programme in place for Viiv. Under the Centrino program, Intel went out and verified its products would work with thousands of hotspots and dozens of equipment providers, and the company plans to implement a similar testing procedure for Viiv PCs and related equipment, McDonald says.

Intel risks diluting the Media Centre branding campaign that has already had some initial success over the past few quarters, Doherty says. However, McDonald downplayed that risk in an interview after his keynote, saying that Intel intends to incorporate Microsoft's Media Centre marketing efforts as part of the Viiv campaign.

Left unaddressed on Wednesday, but certain to be discussed in the future, were details about digital-rights management technologies used in Viiv PCs to ensure content providers will get on board with the delivery of digital content over the internet. Intel has taken great pains over the past year to chart a middle course between the content industry and consumer advocates when it comes to DRM, but it did not explain on Wednesday how it will prevent users from using or making unauthorised copies of digital content on Viiv PCs.

The company also didn't explain where it got the idea for the Viiv moniker. McDonald called the name "fun" and "an exciting brand for an exciting product" that will also be easy to recognise, if not pronounce.

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