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Intel's new business: cameras

The first digital camera based on Intel's camera technology debuts, ensuring that computers are not the only products which will feature Intel building blocks.

The first digital camera based on Intel's camera technology was announced today, ensuring that computers are not the only products that will feature Intel building blocks.

Polaroid will be offering the cameras based on a surprisingly comprehensive array of Intel technology. Dubbed the "PC Camera Kit," the package includes Intel's camera chips, software, and imaging technologies, including the Intel Flash Miniature Card, which works as film.

Today's news indicates that Intel is bringing its formidable chipmaking prowess to the digital camera market, heralding a new business model of designing and licensing the core technology that digital products are based on. "The significance of the announcement is that you're seeing a new model now," said an Intel spokesperson. "We're extending this beyond the PC into the camera peripheral."

Intel today compared the Polaroid cameras based on Intel chip kits to computers made by Gateway or Compaq, which are built using core Intel silicon building blocks. Like the camera kit, Intel supplies the core components for PCs and others manufacture the finished product.

Intel introduced the kit last November, and announced that Samsung, Aztech Systems, and Lite-On Technology would manufacture and offer products based on the kit.

According to Karl Holec, senior imaging analyst at ARS, this is only Polaroid's second effort into the entry-level digital camera market. "The nice thing about the kit is it allows vendors on the edge of entering the digital camera market the ability to do it at a rather low development cost," he said. "It's a good first step for a lot of vendors."

The Polaroid-Intel digital camera will feature dual-mode operation, which means that when the camera is connected to the PC through the PC's Universal Serial Bus connection scheme it can also capture video and video-still pictures. This is a significant departure from current digital cameras, which are tethered to PCs, Intel said.

"The idea is pretty neat," said Holec. "That you get good resolution, USB interface, and the ability to have a digital still camera that you can take with you, are all really good ideas."

The camera announced today will offer 768-by-576-pixel resolution, which is lower picture quality than the "megapixel" cameras that offer 1000 by 1000 pixels. Megapixel cameras based on the Intel kit are expected in 1999.

Images can be permanently stored on a PC hard drive.

The Polaroid-Intel digital cameras will be released in the second half of 1998, and are expected to retail for under $300, Solberg said. The cameras will come with Polaroid's Image Quality Assurance software.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.