There are more tech stories than any mere mortal critic (and we are very mortal) can track coming out of the upcoming digital orgy that is Consumer Electronics Show. And so the previews start early so brands have some chance of poking through the crescendo of press releases, high profile keynotes and expo floor report that will hit later this week. Intel comes out of the gate with an early announcement that its new Sandy Bridge CPU chipset will be coming soon. For digital video mavens, this is one Intel rollout that reaches into the realm of streaming media and content. According to industry bible Computerworld, the new series of 29 processors will include a new security layer designed to unlock compatible 1080p video from online streaming services. The content will only run if the right processor is present on the PC or laptop motherboard. The feature is being called "Insider."
Movie studios have been reticent to release hi-def versions of their properties into the growing streaming film market in part for fear of pirating. This system is meant to deflect pirating efforts and assure publishers that the Web is safe for and able to manage property rights in the manner to which they are accustomed. Presumably this unlocking scheme will be coupled with acceleration technologies to make 1080p streaming more reliable over the Internet. At CES this week, Intel will announce a partnership with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to give these chips access to over 300 titles that will be found at WB's own online store as well as at CinemaNow, Best Buy's online streaming service.
My hunch is that the Insider feature thrills property owners much more than it will consumers. Intel obviously has the power and penetration o make these technologies industry standards, but even they can't force users to buy new PCs and laptops outside of the usual cycles. How long will it take for these chipsets to become common enough to affect the market?
More alluring to consumers will be the upgrades to the current Wi-Di technology, which can send images and video from a PC wirelessly to a compatible TV screen. We have not hear much about Wi-Di, even though it already exists in some laptops, because it still requires some integration with TVs or set top boxes. Like all things involving the great living room tech wars, how much hardware OEMs want 'Intel inside' the living room is an open question. Consumers who are already using living room laptops to connect Web content to the TVs may be the most inclined to seek out Wi-Di compatible devices. The next generation of the scheme will up the resolution from 720p to 1080p. And since Wi-Di also will handle the new secure hi-def content, the laptop could become even more of a set top box.
But that is the big news as of Tuesday of CES week. By the end of this weekend when the event comes to a close we will have cycled through a good dozen stories that are more explicitly eye-popping than this. But Intel's announcement is an interesting foreshadowing of just how pitched, vital and high stakes this battle for the digital living room is about to be and how fully merged (dare we say 'converged'?) the Web and TV realms are becoming.