An Afternoon With Intel CEO Paul Otellini

LAS VEGAS -- Watching Intel CEO Paul Otellini deliver Thursday afternoonis keynote at CES, I felt strangely out of place. With about a dozen Steve Jobs keynotes behind me, the sight of Intelis chief executive -- of all people -- pontificating for 90 minutes on what the future of computing and digital media was going to look like just seemed out of place without our favorite fruit logo glowing in the background. (See our photo gallery from the keynote for more information.)

With Appleis pending adoption of Intel processors, rumored to arrive as early as next week at Macworld Expo San Francisco, there is no doubt that Intelis new Core Duo processor the company officially rolled out at CES represents the future of mobile computing for 2006 and beyond. Less clear, however, is what Intelis new Viiv platform means for digital media and Apple in particular.

For those unfamiliar, Viiv (pronounced "vive," not "veeve") is the second manifestation of Intelis transition from processors to platforms. Centrino, delivered three years ago for laptops, was the first, and Intel also rolled out Centrino Duo at CES, a boost based on the Core Duo chip. Viiv systems are tuned specifically for the living room and beyond, packing a new processor, a new logic board, built-in wireless networking, remote control, and Windows Media Center edition, among other features.

Simplification is the driving force behind Viiv, Mr. Otellini stressed many times during the keynote. Accessing, storing, streaming, and taking digital media with you will purportedly be a piece of cake thanks to Viiv, never mind the experience and success Apple has already enjoyed in this arena. To its credit, the demonstration of Viiv did serve up some impressive features and capabilities, not the least of which, for me, is the new Microsoft Media Center software, which seems to feature much of the finesse of Appleis Front Row software.

Dozens of companies have already aligned themselves with Viiv, from Gametap for video games to AOL for streaming television programs and music. DirecTV will even offer customers a Viiv box capable of functioning as a satellite receiver and digital video recorder, as well as tapping into all of the other features Viiv can deliver.

Yet the mention of Apple was strikingly absent from any announcement, leaving one to ponder where todayis digital media juggernaut will factor into the equation. In fact, with the exception of a demonstration of the Core Duo processoris capabilities that involved ripping a CD in iTunes, neither Apple nor the iPod was even mentioned during the keynote, no doubt deliberately so.

But the US$64,000 question remains that with Apple systems soon to sporting the Core Duo processor, what does Viiv mean for Mac users? Will Apple sit out the Viiv revolution (which many not be a bad idea, given that boxes will start at $900 and up -- expensive for a media center PC -- and that much of the Viiv experience is optimized for those HD televisions few own at this point), or will Apple also adopt Intelis Viiv platform and somehow Aquaficially further improve the experience?

Thereis also the possibility that consumers will simply reject Viiv, balking at its price and considering its features to be overkill. Weive seen this before with digital media players, like those from Archos that offered video support and larger capacities long before the iPod did, that never got a good foothold in the market.

Or, could two media center solutions -- one from Intel and one from Apple -- co-exist in the marketplace? This is also a possibility, but with Intelis deep pockets and many established partnerships, Intel clearly sees Viiv as having legs, and will do everything it can to convince consumers of this as well.