Intel annouces its plan for Digital TV

On December 4, Intel executives announced plans for future digital television products. Noting that, as we move toward a digital TV broadcast model, there will be 230 million TVs to replace, Intel has targeted the heart of nearly 100% of American homes.

The major computer companies had been requesting a progressive-scanned format for digital TV, but have been rebuffed by the broadcast industry. Intel has now accommodated the interlaced formats preferred by the broadcasters and is ready to move ahead with plans for several products. These include set-top boxes and boards for PCs that enable them to run a digital TV feed.

According to market researchers, Intel is putting itself in a prime position to dominate the next generation of televisions, starting with set-top boxes and moving on to the chips that will be needed by every digital TV to receive the variety of broadcast signals on the horizon.

The big trick here is for Intel to price their products down in the range that most people expect when buying a new TV: well under $1000. Future versions of Pentium II processors are said to allow these economies, while at the same time controlling the digital multimedia content streams. MPEG-2 decoding, high-quality audio, and decryption will be built into the low-cost products.

As an interim step, consumers could purchase a Pentium-based, digital-TV-enabled set-top device and use it to drive their current TVs. Intel will then supply these components to manufacturers of the televisions themselves, allowing to be built-in such features as e-mail, web browsing, computer gaming, internet commerce, and software or multimedia downloading.

Certainly, replacing 230 million televisions in the US will be a decades-long process, but the potential far exceeds the current penetration of PCs into the home---said to be around 40% and holding. Some estimates place the set-top box market at 25 million units by the year 1999.