Intel rethinking the living room PC

Its Entertainment PCs haven't taken off, but Intel is revamping their look and cost--as well as what they're used for.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Intel is going to give the Entertainment PC a makeover.

The lukewarm response for the EPC--a living room computer that functions as a DVD player, a digital-video recorder and a media storage vault that sort of looks like a VCR--is prompting the company to rethink the design and function of the devices, said Don MacDonald, general manager of Intel's home product group.

"I think there is an in-built inertia against anything called a PC in the living room."
--Don MacDonald
Intel home product group

Future living room units will be smaller, more stylish and likely less costly, he said. They could possibly even be integrated with movie delivery or other content services. Equally important: The fact that the box is a PC will be heavily de-emphasized.

"I'm not sure I want to call it an entertainment PC," MacDonald said during an interview at the Intel Developer Forum. "I think there is an in-built inertia against anything called a PC in the living room."

An early example of Intel's new direction is a rectangular prototype computer shown off at the conference that resembles Apple Computer's Mac Mini.

The EPC box was designed to be the sort of object someone wouldn't be hesitant to put in the living room or next to a plasma TV, MacDonald said. Designers achieved the relatively small size of the box, in part, by building the prototype around the upcoming Yonah notebook processors rather than a conventional desktop chip. Typically, desktop chips consume more energy and require fans and heat sinks.

At the same time, the unit is designed to sell in the $600 range, to appeal to a mass audience. To keep the price low, it runs on desktop memory rather than notebook memory, which slashes about $20 off of the materials bill. It can also accommodate a 3.5-inch desktop hard drive rather than the more expensive notebook drives.

While Intel will not sell this PC, the design will become a starting point for discussions with computer makers on whether--or how--commercial versions of the box can sell.

The Entertainment PC will also likely be paired with services such as video-on-demand. A large studio, in fact, is working with Intel to create a content service which, optimistically, could go live within a year.

Although cable operators now mostly deliver content through set-top boxes, there's no reason a PC couldn't perform the same job. The advent of new types of content delivery services, along with high-definition TV, will likely spark a round of upgrades for the living room box, and that will open the door to a new generation of PCs, MacDonald theorized.

Culturally, though, Intel still has to get beyond the stigma of taking computers out of the den, even though they are, of course, already there.

"People don't want a PC in their living room," MacDonald said. "I'll ask my son, 'How many PCs are there in the living room?' He'll say 'none.' But in reality, there are two: the Xbox and the TiVo."