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The heart of the Viiv platform, says Leszenske, is an advanced PC that might resemble a standard bulky tower, a sleek book-sized box, or an all-in-one computer/screen combination similar to Apple’s iMac. Whatever it’s outer design, though, a Viiv computer will run the Windows Media Center Edition operating system, a special version of Microsoft Windows XP designed for managing content from cable TV, DVDs, and other sources. Rather than using a keyboard, Viiv PC menus can be navigated with a remote control.

According to Merlin Kister, program director of Intel’s Digital Home group, the Digital Home Express chipset is specially designed to support high-definition video and surround-sound audio. Additionally, Viiv PCs will include Intel Pro Client local area networking hardware, allowing Ethernet networking at a gigabyte per second, so media can stream smoothly between devices.

A powerful computer is only part of the package, though, according to Leszinske. The Viiv platform also includes driver software to make it compatible with many peripheral media devices, similar to the way a Centrino-enabled computer can easily connect to a Centrino wireless hub.

But going a step beyond Centrino, which was about integrating wireless products rather than the information that flowed over them, Intel is assembling special content for Viiv. To that end, the company has announced partnerships with more than 40 content providers; in early 2006, Viiv users will be able to rent and download hundreds to thousands of movies via subscription-based services from companies such as TiVo. Music from the likes of Napster will also be available for purchase and download to portable devices. Game providers and online photo services are also partnering with Intel.

Digital rights management – the creation of protocols to keep content from being pirated – will be the responsibility of the providers, Intel says. For instance, if a movie source wants to allow video to be transferred to a portable video player, it must encode the media appropriately.

Even with the backing of content providers, though, Viiv’s success will hinge on whether consumers can accept the idea of one-stop shopping for digital media. It sounds like a simplifying tool – but with so many options for content to sift through, people could be overwhelmed, at least at first. Not to mention the hurdle of needing to buy another PC strictly for entertainment purposes.

Not surprisingly, so far Viiv’s marketing strategy seems to have been taken straight from the Centrino playbook. The company plans to affix a Viiv sticker to enough “verified” devices so that people become familiar with the logo. And Intel no doubt will argue that living rooms are full of disparate boxes and therefore need to be simplified with a unifying device and brand.

Most importantly, though, the platform will have to work well right away (as Centrino did). If it does, Viiv may become a fixture in many living rooms – and even change the way we perceive entertainment.

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