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Thanks to the digital revolution in entertainment and the proliferating number of homes with high-speed Internet connections, Americans are acquiring, storing, and consuming vast amounts of media using desktop computers. But there’s a hitch: most people still much prefer to watch a movie, listen to music, or play a video game from a couch than a chair at a desk. So it’s not surprising that companies from Microsoft to Apple are eager to successfully merge PC-based digital content with old-fashioned home entertainment venues.

Now Intel is entering the fray, too, with a chipset designed for an advanced PC that will connect to televisions and audio systems, as well as the Internet. In theory, at least, it will also make it easier to download and manage digital content on a range of devices, such as portable audio and video players. What’s more, like a TV or stereo, this new kind of PC will turn on instantly, rather than requiring minutes to boot up.

The design, called “Viiv” (rhymes with “jive”), had its coming out at an Intel press conference in San Francisco on December 13. It will be built around a chipset, called Digital Home Express, that contains two separate processors – Intel’s first dual-core processor for a consumer-level product. This design will allow the machine to run multiple information-intensive tasks simultaneously, such as downloading music while playing a movie.

But Viiv is also more than a chipset. Intel itself describes it as a “platform” – akin to Centrino, the company’s hugely successful chip for wireless broadband networking on laptops, which combined an integrated processor, Wi-Fi radio, wireless chipset, and networking standard. Just as millions of laptops with a “Centrino” label on them were built by other companies, Intel expects manufacturers, software makers, content providers, and portable device makers to release Viiv-compatible products, starting with PCs in early 2006.

Of course putting a PC in a living room and making it the hub for digital entertainment requires a user to see the computer in a different way. “The PC started out as a really expensive typewriter,” says Bill Leszinske, director of the Viiv program. Today’s desktops offer “more of an interactivity and creation experience,” he says, but it’s still in “two-foot interactivity mode,” meaning the user must be sitting at the computer. Viiv is designed to provide a “10-foot local experience,” Leszinske says, so that consumers can download media and watch movies, television and photo slideshows, listen to music, or play video games from the comfort of their couches.

But, in several ways, creating the digital living room may be a bigger challenge for Intel than unifying wireless technologies with Centrino. Viiv depends on three disparate components: a powerful computer containing the Digital Home Express chipset and other technology, devices that can connect to a Viiv-enabled PC, and Intel’s partnerships with companies that will provide content.

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