Intel takes 3D in hand

There wasn't much in the way of new products at the Spring 2004 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Taipei last week, but handheld multimedia was given a boost.

There wasn't much in the way of new products at the Spring 2004 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Taipei last week, but handheld multimedia was given a boost.

Intel unveiled the PXA 2470 XScale processor range and the 2700G multimedia accelerator. They are said to have enough computing oomph to deliver DVD quality playback of video, high-quality audio for MP3s, and for smooth 3D games thanks to Intel's MMX (multimedia extensions) being built into the processor.

It's hard to quantify the productivity boost derived from employees being able play Unreal Tournament on their mobiles and handhelds, but it does look cool.

Thanks to the multimegahertz muscle of the new processor, mobiles may be equipped with the ability to recognise digital watermarks in printed pictures. Called Digimarc, the idea is that if you scan an image in a newspaper or advertising poster your handheld device detects the hidden watermark, and loads, for instance, a URL to a vendor's website.

Asked if the Digimarc technology could be used for digital rights management applications (to prevent scanning and thus copying) or for tracing advertising viewing, Intel communications group GM Sean Maloney seemed surprised, and said that sounded "rather 1984-like and Big Brother". Maloney added that the technology is already in use in South Korea.

Laying out the course for Intel's core business, desktop systems, desktop platform group GM Louis Burns took up the entertainment theme in talking about the digital home. Intel is keen on a slice of the fat home entertainment market pie, and wants to provide highly integrated "entertainment PCs" that would replace your Hi-Fi, DVD player/recorder and games console, plus allow internet-delivered services like pay-per-view films and audio/video calls.

Intel envisages digital dwellings inhabited by people working in a digital office. When not amusing themselves with their handheld devices, these digidroids are beavering away on their desktop PCs. The Alderwood and Grantsdale platforms have been covered before; but to recap, they'll have 16X PC Express for the graphics, dual-channel DDR2-533 memory, fancy onboard audio as well as RAID 0/1 for the disks. Integrated wireless access points are also part of the new platform, but there was no mention of any new Pentium-M based desktop processors.

Instead, Burns thinks the Prescott is hot, although not in thermal terms. He skirted the question of big heat output from the processor with "it depends on what you call hot", without giving any specifics about cooling technologies.

Intel watchers will be interested to learn that Burns thinks "Steve is a great marketer". Steve being Jobs of Apple Computer, of course. The Cupertino company's highly successful iTunes pay-per-tune was mentioned by Burns as something people want (and which the recording industry doesn't understand), but at the same time he denied it was an inspiration for Intel.

Mac OS X got the thumbs up from Burns, however. Being a hands-on sort of guy, Burns says he buys Macs to check them out -- and quickly added that he sells them on when he's done with them. Burns is clearly keen on seeing Mac OS X on the Intel platform and when told that "there's no hope of that, presumably", said "never say never".

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