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AMD goes after AppleTV

Calls for Canadian curling channel

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iTV Con Questioning whether Apple TV has what it takes to bring internet television to mainstream consumers, chip-maker AMD continues to call for a less-fascist internet-to-television setup based on the good ol' personal computer. As the company points out, this "Active TV" initiative is part of a shameless scheme to sell more chips.

"Can internet TV move beyond 'best effort service' into mainstream consumer platform?" AMD's Graham Kinahan asked at today's iTV conference in San Jose. "Yes, it can. Thanks to something that we call Active TV - a way of using the PC to format video and deliver it to the television."

As you might have guessed from his unfortunate use of "best effort service", Kinahan is an AMD senior product marketing manager.

Active TV is not a product or a platform. It's an AMD-led marketing effort, also backed by web video services, hardware manufacturers, and middleware makers. But there's something to be said for it.

As Kinahan points out, the AppleTV set-top box is a pretty slick means of shuttling video from the web to your TV. But in typical Apple fashion, it's a closed platform with a high-price tag. It only works with Apple's iTunes media download service and a doctored verion of the Google-owned YouTube, and it sells for between $299 and $399.

"Apple TV has done a great job is bridging this gap [between the web and the TV]," Kinahan said. "But is it enough to sell volume? AppleTV is a walled-garden platform. It's not sufficiently open to enable all the people out there who want to create video content on the web." Kinahan envisions a world where the typical TV user has access to internet-generated "Estonian folk dancing" and "Canadian curling" channels.

He's also down on the AppleTV price tag. "There's no competitor," he said. "So there's no reason for them to lower the price."

AMD prefers a world where ordinary PCs are used to shuttle video onto TV sets - a more open setup that lets users tap into whatever software and services they like. "People want access to infinite options," Kinahan said. "The best way to do that is to let the PC handle everything behind the scenes."

In the long term, the company sees TV sets connecting directly to existing PCs, thanks to embedded thin clients and network jacks. But in the short term, it's trumpeting low-cost intermediates like the D-Link DSM-520, a wireless HD media player that sells for $180 - "almost half as much as AppleTV", as Kinahan says.

AMD is also promoting a project from BroadQ that will allow users to connect their PCs and televisions via their existing PlayStation 2 gaming consoles.

The question is whether this set-up will be anywhere near as easy to use as Apple TV. Kinahan predicted a PC-driven internet television setup that even "soccer moms" could set up and use, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

The company's motivation for pushing PC-based internet TV is obvious. "In order for people to go out and buy PCs - and processors - you've got to have a workload that's worthy of that. Productivity apps are not enough. You've got to have something like internet video." ®

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