December 14, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Intel's Viiv low on holiday shopping lists

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And plenty of PCs and software that don't come with a colorful Viiv sticker are capable of running the latest games, storing audio and video files, and playing movies. While those PCs may not have the rights to download content available only to Viiv PCs, such as hit NBC shows like Heroes, there's plenty of compelling video content available over the Internet such as the shows on Apple Computer's iTunes Store or Major League Baseball's package of games--not to mention YouTube's collection of videos.

Still, Advanced Micro Devices has tried to do the same thing with its AMD Live technology: put a brand on technology that has been around for some time. While both companies have been able to point to an increased number of PCs that are shipping with the technology, it's easy enough to make that happen when the chipmakers require that all of their products for a certain class of PC feature the branded technology.

"Most consumers are not implementing entertainment properties inherent with Live or Viiv Media Center PCs, but investing in machines with stalwart configurations that--not coincidently--are offering some impressive value propositions in today's market," Toni DuBoise, an analyst with Current Analysis, wrote in an e-mail. "Viiv and Live's successes are associated more with the fact that it resides in the higher performing systems offered by the chipmakers today."

Fighting the system
Part of Intel's pitch for Viiv is that the company would certify those systems to be interoperable with a host of other devices, such as wireless routers and digital televisions. This includes being able to support DTCP-IP (Digital Transmission Content Protection over Internet Protocol) technology that locks digital content within a protected network of devices, so users can't exchange the latest episode of Lost with millions of their friends on the Internet. Plenty of devices have received certification, but most are from lower-tier vendors and public awareness of what the devices can do is pretty low, said Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld.

Intel believes the real promise for Viiv is in the more compelling devices that are just starting to appear, said Claudine Mangano, a company spokeswoman. For example, Intel has signed a deal with DirectTV to certify a DirectTV set-top box for the Viiv program, and Acer recently agreed to distribute an LCD TV certified for Viiv, although just in Europe and Asia to start.

There are a few signs that people are more interested in putting PCs at the heart of their living rooms. Matt Dworkin of the Geek Squad noted that requests for help setting up Viiv PCs appear to be increasing, which at least shows some people are interested in the technology, although the fact that the Geek Squad was called suggests the technology is not as easy to use as originally promised.

"I don't want to say there was resistance, but people didn't quite see the purpose behind (Viiv) at first," Dworkin said. "But now with the increased popularity of TiVo and DVRs, people are looking to do more and more things. You don't have the versatility with TiVo that you do with (Viiv)," he said.

However, Intel is not the only company interested in putting its technology into the living room. Gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii are similar to media PCs with plenty of horsepower. Digital televisions are growing in sophistication, and Apple Computer is getting ready to wade into the living room with its iTV product, expected next year.

It seems that compelling content and easy-to-use products will one day convince the general public to geek out in the living room, but it also seems that Intel has a long way to go before the public sees Viiv as the fulfillment of that promise.

CNET News.com's Erica Ogg contributed to this report.

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