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Mixed reaction greets Intel's
low-bandwidth solution

Company claims hybrid network computers will give users high-quality video and audio over the Internet

By Elinor Mills IDG News Service, San Francisco Bureau

August  1996
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Burlingame, CA -- The loud demonstrations at Intel Corp.'s Internet Media Symposium failed to impress some attendees, although they applauded efforts to circumvent bandwidth limitations that keep multimedia applications from becoming widespread.

Intel held a one-day industry extravaganza in late July to announce its solution to the low-bandwidth problem: "hybrid network computers" that will allow users to get high-quality video and audio over the Internet by increasing the power and multimedia functions on the CPU.

This new model involves users selectively downloading files during nonpeak times and decreasing the amount of data exchanged over the network to update content, according to Bill Miller, director of worldwide press relations for Intel. The goal is to "download the environment locally and update the orientation, not repopulate the entire application with each change," he said.

"They demoed what they need us to do: create more content than can fit on a CD," said Todd Hertz, technical director at School Zone Publishing Co. in Grand Haven, Michigan. "But there was no talk of how people will be paid for this content."

Also lost in the hype of the day, Hertz said, was mention of the hardware requirements for the new computers, such as additional storage, digital video disk (DVD) players and large screens or monitors.

Others questioned Intel's mission.

"Intel and Microsoft have the common goal of making the sexiest stuff on the [World Wide] Web hard to do," said Andy Fischer, west coast editor of the PC Graphics Report. "They've got to get the market for this before the Network Computer comes, to make it impossible to do the greatest thing on the Web with a low-cost machine -- that's the imperative."

Hybrid machines, in contrast to the thin client concept of the $500 network appliance, would rely more on local storage and computing and not the network.

One analyst said Intel's goal was to send a "political" message to network providers and carriers, as well as encouraging developers to create content to Intel's MMX platform for multimedia processing on the chip.

"Intel is sending a message to bandwidth providers to accept responsibility for expanding bandwidth or `We'll make up for it on the desktop... but that means we'll take control of the applications,'" said Allen Weiner of Dataquest Inc. in San Jose, CA.

"Everyone pretty much understands that for content providers, like my company, to provide compelling content...there has to be increased bandwidth and increased computing power," said Robert Perkins, vice president of online services at ticket sales agency Ticketmaster in Los Angeles.

Intel's hybrid PC offers "great possibilities for record companies and movie producers because they already have a way of distributing that kind of hard media to their customers, he said.


Some impressed, some not
There was general praise for Intel's MMX technology, which can help companies improve compression techniques to enhance overall quality of online transmissions, said Philip Rosedale, general manager of client software for Seattle-based Progressive Networks, a broadcaster of streaming audio over the Internet. "Our goal is to maximize the impact of the network bandwidth that exists today," he said.

"I'm yawning," said John Blakney, owner of Visual Database Systems, a Scotts Valley, CA, company that makes controllers for interactive video disk players.

"We've been mixing multiple media sources using analog video disk instead of DVD for 13 years," he said. "Analog is going away, but the message that you can't get there by plugging into a telephone isn't new."

Although his firm distributes its video disks to customers via postal mail, rather than online as Intel envisions multimedia being delivered, Blakney said the quality of the video in Intel's demos was mediocre.

Even an Intel speaker was blunt in his criticism after one demonstration in which a film clip was played. "I'm impressed," a teenager participating in the demonstration said unconvincingly.

"Well I'm not," responded Frank Gill, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Internet and Communications Group. "That sounded awful. Maybe the demo gods aren't smiling on us today."
--Elinor Mills IDG News Service, San Francisco Bureau

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