Intel gadget wirelessly joins PCs, TVs

The "digital media adapter" could speed the dream of the networked home, where PC-stored digital photos would be viewed on a TV, and MP3 music tracks could be beamed to a stereo.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
A new device from Intel could speed the dream of the networked home, where PC-stored digital photos would be viewed on a TV, and MP3 music tracks could be beamed to a stereo.

Similar in size to a small set-top box, the

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"digital media adapter," announced this week, connects to a home-entertainment appliance, such as a television, using a standard audio/video cable. It contains the necessary communications technology, including Intel's XScale PXA processors, to let the appliance wirelessly access files stored on a computer.

PC makers Dell Computer, Gateway and China's Legend were demonstrating prototypes of the adapters at the Intel Developer Forum this week in San Jose, Calif. The companies are planning to bundle the adapters with future PCs.

Computer companies have been trying for some time to make the PC the hub of a home-entertainment network, but efforts from heavy-hitters such as Intel and Microsoft, and products from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Compaq Computer and others, have met with little success.

Intel, however, says the digital media adapter could catch on because it will cost less and offer greater capabilities than previous devices.

"One of the problems with (earlier) appliances (has been) price point," said David Vogel, an Intel market development manager. "At $1,000 or $1,500, not too many consumers are going to be ready to buy."

"We designed the digital media adapter to be a PC peripheral, unlike some of the devices out there that are really standalone appliances," Vogel said, referring to gadgets such as HP's Digital Entertainment Center.

Intel will deliver a reference design--a combination of a set of blueprints and a working demonstration device--to companies interested in building an adapter. That lets manufacturers cut down on some of the design work and use less expensive components. The cost of components that go into making one of the adapters is about $79.

Individually, the adapters are expected to range in price from $99 to $199, depending on their features. Consumers would have to attach a separate adapter to each device intended to share files with a PC, or they could move the adapter from device to device as needed.

The first generation of the Intel gadget will let people view and play PC-stored image and audio files on a television or stereo receiver, said Vogel. A subsequent generation will also permit the transfer of video. By offering video and photo capabilities, the Intel adapter serves up more bang for the buck than current devices, which mainly store and play music.

The device's wireless capabilities are also a selling point, eliminating the need to have the PC in the same room as connected appliances or to run a mess of cables around the house. (The adapter can also be used with an Ethernet cable.)

The gadget is part of Intel's Extended Wireless PC Initiative. Ultimately Intel would like consumer-electronics manufacturers to incorporate the adapter's capabilities directly into their products. For now, though, the adapter serves as an interim step, letting consumers create a PC-centered home-entertainment network without having to buy a new TV or stereo or other components. The gadget could thus accelerate mainstream acceptance of the home-networking idea.

Versions of the adapter will start to come out in volume during the holiday season of 2003, although a few might debut later this year, said Louis Burns, vice president of Intel's desktop platforms group.

The adapters use the Universal Plug and Play specification, which helps connect consumer electronics devices and computers. While the adapters currently use the Linux operating system, they can be modified to use Microsoft's Windows CE .Net OS for embedded devices.

Intel has already made the adapter reference design and its related software-development toolkits available to third parties.

News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.