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Intel wants cheap digital cameras

The chipmaker announces guidelines for new low-cost digital cameras.

Intel (INTC) today will announce guidelines for new low-cost digital cameras, in an attempt to make these devices as commonplace as printers.

Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and other major companies will support the guidelines.

"This is an effort to produce an affordable digital camera," said one source familiar with the guidelines.

Marketing research companies such as International Data Corporation forecast that the digital still camera market will grow to 15 million units annually by 2000.

Digital cameras can transfer photographs directly to a PC for viewing. Pictures transferred to a PC offer all the advantages of digital technology: Photos can be modified and manipulated in a variety of ways and then stored on a computer's hard drive. They can also be printed out.

The guidelines will propose a camera that interacts more tightly with a PC and its processor, more like a CD-ROM drive and other peripheral devices than today's digital cameras, the source said. The "offloading" or sharing of certain functions with the PC's microprocessor should allow digital camera manufacturers to produce more affordable devices. Currently, digital cameras start at about $200, but many are priced at $500 and even $1,000.

The announcement follows a series of joint initiatives dating back to the beginning of this year regarding efforts to make digital photography more affordable and useable for consumers.

Intel and HP announced back in June they were working to support FlashPix, an image file format developed by HP, Kodak, Microsoft, and Live Picture.

The companies also indicated they will promote the use of a connection technology used in new PCs--the Universal Serial Bus--for connecting to digital still cameras. HP's Pavilion line of consumer PCs currently supports these connections. HP is also offering, like Kodak, digital cameras.

HP is making digital imaging a major part of its push into the consumer PC market. On Thursday, the company introduced additional digital photography products for use with its Pavilion computers. (See related story) HP says the Pavilions can serve as a "mini photo shop" where users can manipulate photos and produce reprints and enlargements.

Also, back in March, Intel and Kodak announced they would work together to make digital photography on the PC more accessible to consumers.

"We want to take [digital photography] out of the experimental stage and into the consumer access stage...and make it easy to hook up cameras to PCs," said Intel president Craig Barrett at the time.

"While users can purchase digital cameras, scanners, and printers today, obstacles such as varying file formats, storage formats...prevent many of them from easily exchanging or printing files," Barrett then added in a separate written statement.

Kodak currently offers a full line of digital cameras ranging in price from $199 to $1,000.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.