RealTime IT News
Intel Inside Could Mean a TV That Watches You
By Andy Patrizio
September 25, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel is putting Atom processors almost everywhere these days, with the latest target being televisions. The company announced a new Atom-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) design for television sets to make them the hub of social networking and interactivity.

Justin Rattner, chief technology officer for Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), introduced the Atom CE4100 during his keynote, the final keynote here Thursday at the Intel Developer Forum. The goal is to make the TV take on more PC-like function and interact with other devices so it can learn what the viewer's interests are and adjust accordingly.

For example, it knew what TV shows Rattner had been previously watching but paused in mid-viewing. When turned on another set he was offered the opportunity to continue watching the show, even though he was watching on a different TV.

Another, potentially disturbing element for privacy advocates, of the smart TV was it knew, thanks to a mobile Internet device (MID) Rattner had been carrying, that he recently visited a musical instrument store. The MID told the TV this, and among the different shows offered for suggested viewing were shows on guitarists. At the bottom of the screen were banner advertisements, one of them for a guitar store.

The CE4100 is a 45-nanometer Atom running at 1.2GHz and supporting 1080p high definition video as well as 3D graphics and high-definition audio. Among the key additions expected for the 4100 is Adobe's Flash. Adobe (NASDAQ: ADOB) is porting Flash to Atom and is expected to be finished next year.

3D on a big scale

Rattner's role at Intel is to work on future technologies many years down the road, and his keynote did not disappoint. Unlike past IDF shows, which tended to run the gamut of technologies, this one was all based around the TV as a media center.

He showed a demo from Intel's China labs that can identify and track players in soccer games. Each player can be identified by recognition, either of his face or his jersey number, and data on that player drawn down from the Web by use of a remote control. While they didn't show this for American football, it would be a huge hit for fantasy league participants.

The demo that made everyone stand up, mostly so they could see, was a 3D demo from 3ality (pronounced "Three-ality") Digital. Using a pair of high definition cameras, a special screen and glasses given to attendees, those at the keynote could watch a conversation between Rattner and Howard Postley, the COO of 3ality, who appeared ten feet tall and as solid as Rattner, even though he was only on screen. Postley was in fact outside the conference hall and people walking behind him appeared to come out of the screen as they walked by.

The demo then showed a football game, with players emerging from the stadium tunnel and actually appearing to run out into the audience, followed by a U2 concert. As vocalist Bono sang, he extended his arms which seemed to reach out over the audience, across several rows of seats.

Postley said that to capture video, 3ality needed two cameras working in tandem, one for each eye. Each camera puts out three gigabits per second of data, plus five megabits per second of metadata, and in recording something like a sports event or concert, where multiple cameras are used, a single computer coordinates a 3D space for all of the cameras involved.

As such, 3ality needs huge, thick cables to handle all the data, which gave Rattner an opportunity to discuss Light Peak, the fiber optical initiative Intel announced on Wednesday.