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Intel CEO sees Net boosting consumer electronics

Paul Otellini predicts during his CES keynote that the Net's impact on the computer industry will play out again in the consumer electronics market. Photos: Otellini predicts always-connected world

LAS VEGAS--The ability to connect practically all electronic devices to the Internet will unleash a burst of innovation and business opportunities that will rival the impact on personal computers, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said Monday.

Speaking here at the Consumer Electronics Show, Otellini presented a vision of an always-on, always-connected experience for consumers, whether sitting in their homes, driving their cars, or riding their bikes.

"We're now in the midst of the largest opportunity to redefine consumer electronics and entertainment since the introduction of the television," Otellini said. "Increasingly, computing and communications are coming together, bringing a new level of capabilities and intelligence to the Internet experience. The personal Internet of tomorrow will serve you--delivering the information you want, when you want it, how you want, wherever you are."

For an example of how dramatic the effect could be, one need look no further than to the 1990s, when the Internet injected almost limitless potential into the personal computer and severely disrupted industries as diverse as gaming, media, and retail. If that effect expands to household devices such as TVs, microwaves, and refrigerators, as well as cell phones and cars, it's easy to see why the CEO of the chip giant is so bullish.

To illustrate this transformation, Otellini preceded his speech by a video take-off of Video Killed the Radio Star. In Intel's version, the Internet is hailed as killing off compact discs, film cameras, and numerous other technologies.

However, such change will not happen unless four obstacles are overcome, Otellini cautioned. Silicon needs to become more powerful and energy efficient; broadband access needs to be ubiquitous; the Internet needs to be infused with a sense of context; and user interfaces need to be more natural. He exhorted the audience members to take on the challenge of overcoming those hurdles.

Addressing the silicon challenge, Otellini demonstrated a system-on-a-chip for consumer devices. Code-named "Canmore," the product is intended for use in TVs, set-top boxes, and media players to allow, among other things, the integration of Internet applications.

Otellini said Canmore will be available in the second half of 2008, mating a PC-quality processor core with dedicated audio/video processing that can play 1080p video with 7.1 surround sound; it also includes a 3D graphics unit.

"Packaging several important functions--such as computing, graphics and audio-video processing--into a single chip will help devices do more while taking up less space and energy," Otellini said.

Intel expects to ship its first low-power processor and chipset platform designed for mobile Internet devices in the first half of this year. Called "Menlow," it is a package that includes a chipset with a single-chip design, code-named "Poulsbo," and a processor code-named "Silverthorne." The entire package is five times smaller and consumes 10 times less power than ultra-low-voltage mobile processors introduced in 2006, Otellini said.

On the broadband question, Otellini touted WiMax, a technology for providing wireless Net access over great distances. On the context front, the Nintendo Wii was hailed as a good example of improving the user interface for video games.

So what could all this expanded potential actually allow consumers to do? Among his demonstrations, Otellini showed how an English-speaking traveler in Beijing could use a mobile device to translate building signs, restaurant menus, and conversations in real-time. Additionally, he showed how the tourist could use the device to visually identify buildings--much in the same way that face recognition technology allows a device to scan and identify a person. Pairing that recognition ability with information supplied via the Internet from a company such as EveryScape--which assisted with the demo--could allow a traveler to learn about the building's interior. (Need to know where the restroom is?)

Steve Harwell, lead singer of the band Smash Mouth, also joined Otellini onstage to demonstrate how pervasive Internet connectivity and powerful processors will enable new social interactions. In their example, Otellini and Harwell showed how a social-networking site could allow musicians around the world to work out new songs or offer virtual concerts.

Harwell was joined by three musicians, represented by lifelike avatars, via remote connection. With Harwell singing onstage and the others located elsewhere, they performed a portion of the Smash Mouth hit Walking on the Sun.