Week in review: Chips down for AMD?

AMD grapples with chip challenges, Google rethinks video, and Apple's late harvest. Also: gazing into TV's future.

The chip game is hard enough without grappling with the loss of your chief salesman just as you get ready to release a long-delayed processor with a lot riding on it.

Advanced Micro Devices, which is trying to recapture market share from rival Intel, announced that Henri Richard, head of sales and marketing, will step down from his post in September. AMD characterized the move as coming on "completely amicable terms," although the company appeared to be caught a little flat-footed by the news.

An AMD representative would say only that Richard is planning to leave in September, right as AMD prepares to launch Barcelona, its quad-core server processor, which has been beset by delays and glitches. AMD could not confirm whether Richard will be present on September 10 for what the company is billing as "the most anticipated premiere of 2007." He had been expected to take part in a series of Barcelona launch events from Europe, but it is uncertain whether he'll continue with those plans.

Despite AMD's characterization of his departure, the question must be asked: Is Richard the fall guy for AMD's problems? It's not easy to assess. Clearly, AMD has underperformed during the last year or so by anyone's standards, and there's plenty of blame to spread around.

CEO Hector Ruiz confirmed speculation that Barcelona is very late--six months later than expected--after the company encountered technical glitches. The "complicated" design that AMD chose for Barcelona, its first quad-core server processor, caused more than six months of delays before the chip was ready, Ruiz told the San Jose Mercury News.

"Every time we ran into a gotcha (or a technical glitch), it created a six-week-or-so hole in the schedule as we went back and fixed it," Ruiz said. "We hoped we wouldn't get many of those, but in the Barcelona case, we got more than we thought. By the time we got through fixing them all, we were six months-plus later from where we originally wanted to be."

For the future, AMD's pretty sure we all want better graphics on our PCs and it's pretty sure we don't want to cough up a lot of money to get it. Phil Hester, AMD's chief technology officer, stopped by the Hot Chips conference at Stanford University to talk a little more about Fusion, AMD's plan to integrate a graphics processor and PC processor onto the same chip. Hester said that, by the time the chip is ready, around 2009, the growing explosion of video and 3D graphics on PCs these days will require an affordable chip that still delivers great graphics performance.

Google and the green
Google is finally rolling out an advertising format for YouTube that could succeed where many others have failed: it's not annoying. Google's YouTube features ads that are similar to a model used by TV broadcasters for years. TV viewers have grown accustomed to watching a show and seeing the image of David Letterman or some other star walk across the bottom of the screen as part of a promotion. YouTube's new ads are very similar.

YouTube's mini commercials, which are produced through Flash animation, appear at the bottom of a video, are mostly transparent and disappear after 10 seconds. Once the ad appears, a user has the option of clicking on it while the video pauses. The viewer is then taken to a "player within the player" where he or she is encouraged to interact with the advertiser's content. When the person clicks out of the ad, the video resumes.

However, some YouTube Fans find the new ads jarring, some in international quarters wish they could see them, and still others are wondering if they can make money off their own videos with these ads.

"If YouTube starts with accessory advertising while the video is playing, I leave YouTube," said one poster on YouTube's blog with the screen name "Amgervinus." Another viewer--who refers to himself on YouTube as "quepasakoolj18"--put it more succinctly in his post: "Yuck."

Google is also combining YouTube videos with Google News to offer users what it hopes will be broader perspective on news stories. The company announced on its blog that visitors to Google News will see a "Video" prefix next to news stories. Clicking on these links will take them to a YouTube page where they can watch video about the subject.

The offering is a sign that Google is looking for ways to get the most use out of YouTube's vast video library. The service may also send a message to news providers that Google is ratcheting up efforts to become the Web's main newsstand.

Meanwhile, Google acknowledged erring in the way it handled refunds last week after shutting down its video download store. The company angered some Google Video customers who had paid for movies but were locked out when the store was shuttered.

At first, the company offered to refund customers in credit to their Google Checkout accounts. That idea was widely criticized by many as being self-serving. However, Google admitted the "goof" and announced that it would give credit card refunds to anyone who had ever bought a video on the site.

After getting got a lot of flack from privacy advocates for photographing faces and license plate numbers and displaying them on the Street View in Google Maps, Google has quietly changed that policy. Now anyone, not just the owner of the face or car, can alert the company and have an image of a license plate or a recognizable face removed.

The policy change was made about 10 days after the launch of the product in late May, but was not publicly announced, according to Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google. Google is not removing images proactively, and will do so only when someone notifies the company.

The coming image
For all the clout and brand-recognition that accompanies names like Sony and Samsung, it was Vizio, a virtual unknown a year ago, that topped all LCD TV makers in the second quarter of this year.

Vizio sold 606,402 TVs in North America in the second quarter, a 76 percent jump from the previous quarter, according to a report by iSuppli released Monday. That puts Vizio in first place among LCD TV vendors, with a market share of 14.5 percent, up from 9.4 percent, or fifth place.

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