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Intel making digital camera parts

Intel releases chipsets and software for digital cameras to manufacturers, which could lead to PC-compatible digital cameras by next summer.

Intel will release chipsets and software for digital cameras to manufacturers this week, which could lead to relatively inexpensive PC-compatible digital cameras by next summer.

The 971 PC Camera Kit will allow manufacturers to create digital cameras that support "dual-mode operation." That is, the kit will support cameras that can be used separately as ordinary photographic equipment, or as a device for capturing video when attached to a PC through a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection, which are increasingly found on PCs.

Flash memory acts as a kind of film for these digital cameras, while a computer hard drive stores the final images, explained Barry Solberg, an Intel spokesman.

Unlike current digital cameras, cameras built using these kits will function more like computer peripherals, he said, and they can potentially integrate more smoothly with computer processing.

Cameras manufactured from the 971 kit will cost around $300 and have a maximum resolution of 768-by-540-pixel resolution. This falls below the "megapixel" standard (1000 by 1000 pixels) that various analysts say is necessary if digital cameras are to rival film-based cameras. Solberg, however, said megapixel cameras in the $300 price range will likely follow in 1999.

The kit fulfills an industry goal set earlier this year of bringing standardization to the manufacture of digital cameras. In July, a group of 30 manufacturers said that they would work to develop guidelines in this area as a way to boost the market. The 971 PC Camera Kit is the first tangible manifestation of the group's efforts.

The kit comes with Intel's integrated CMOS Image Sensor, image processing unit, a microcontroller, and PC imaging utility software, which captures and compresses images.

Samsung, Aztech Systems, and Lite-On Technology have announced they will build cameras from the kit. Samsung, however, may be the only company of the three to manufacture goods under its own name. The other companies will primarily be branding products for other electronics manufacturers.

"You are going to see them making cameras for leading camera and PC manufacturers," said Solberg.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.