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Intel plays down Viiv entertainment PC brand

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Intel appears to be de-emphasising its much-scorned Viiv brand, reducing the label from a tag designed to represent all-singing, all-dancing multimedia PCs, to a sub-brand of its Core 2 processor label.

Late last week, it emerged that peripheral maker Buffalo had warned its customers that its kit would no longer off Intel's Viiv Zone, a delivery mechanism for content certified to run on Viiv-branded systems. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal claimed Viiv - which sounds like 'five' - will be relegated to Core 2 stickers for entertainment-centric PCs as 'Core 2 with Viiv Technology'.

The WSJ's report comes as no surprise - back in August we reported on Intel's plan to shake up its branding strategy in 2008, including the introduction of 'Core 2 with Viiv' stickers.

The question is - and it's one Intel has never been able to answer satisfactorily - what is Viiv? The brand was introduced in August 2005 to differentiate media centre PCs from regular desktops. How did they differ? Pretty much only by the inclusion of a TV tuner card and Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system.

Intel wanted consumers looking for a living room PC to tune into Viiv as a way of selecting such a machine - just as it had pushed Centrino as the brand to choose if you want a wireless-enabled PC.

But while Centrino brought together a number of in-demand emerging technologies and features - specifically, Wi-Fi and new mobile processors with superior power and performance characteristics - Viiv systems quickly became to be seen as little more than regular desktops, particularly as vendors started to apply the sticker to any PC, whether it was appropriate for the living room or not, that matched Intel's spec.

As we noted at the time, Viiv was simply too weakly defined and lacked a clear differentiation. Plenty of non-Viiv systems out there had TV tuners and Media Center as their OS.

In a bid to bring something more to Viiv, Intel began to pursue deals with content providers who would offer their content exclusively through the Viiv Zone portal. But it's hard to promote such content as being 'empowered by Viiv technology' when it can be just as equally empowered by any other microprocessor platform capable of running Windows.

As AMD showed, when it launched Live!, a batch of media centre-centric utilities and a sticker to go with them. AMD at least pitched Live! as a way of making content collecting, archiving and playing easier, rather than as the only way to get certain content too.

But, again, it was no more tightly defined that Intel's offering was.

And still isn't. Intel's own Viiv webpage primarily touts the benefits of multi-core computing - which these days every mid-range to high-end PC offers, whether there's a Viiv sticker on the front or not. They all have HD video and HD audio support - another Viiv pre-requisite. Quite a few have TV tuners, and some even have remote controls. The rest is just Intel's media software in preference to someone else's, but none of it really provides the user with anything he or she can't find elsewhere.

So why not simply brand them Core 2 and have done with it? That's indeed what Intel appears to be doing with the 'Core 2 with Viiv' branding. It focuses on the key brand - the one buyers recognise - with Viiv retained to indicate something extra.

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