Intel Puts 3D Inside 'Atom'

12:55 PM -- Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is baking 3D capabilities into a lineup of box processors that could eventually go inside future tru2way digital set-top and gateway devices.

3D, multiple video formats, and broadband connectivity are just some of the features that Intel's put into its CE3100 and newer CE4100 "Atom" box processors, according to an ex parte the chip giant filed yesterday as part of its ongoing battle to obtain a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waiver that would allow Intel to build chips for boxes that are unencumbered with an IEEE 1394 "Firewire" interface. Currently, the FCC rule requires all HD cable boxes to come with 1394, but Intel argues that the interface is of negligible value becasue it only adds costs for a feature that MSOs don't generally support. (See Intel Wants In on Set-Top Waiver Action .)

Intel didn't go into deep detail on the 3D capabilities of those chipsets, but the feature was included amidst the wave of 3DTV hype that washed across this month's Consumer Electronics Show. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets, Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz , and ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game .)

But cable may not even need whatever 3DTV elements Intel's adding on its own. CableLabs has found that today's current lineup of digital boxes is perfectly capable of rendering 3DTV content that's delivered in "frame-compatible" format (whereby the separate left and right video signals within the video frame used for conventional 2D-HD signals are squeezed to fit into the space of one image). Cable may eventually offer 3DTV content that delivers full HD signals to each eye, but doing so will come at a steep bandwidth cost.

Intel has some big cable aspirations, recently demonstrating a prototype box outfitted with the CE3100 and tru2way middleware from Vividlogic , soon to become part of SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC). (See Will Intel Go Inside Cable Multimedia Gateways? and SeaChange Snags VividLogic for $12M.)

According to Intel, Orange (NYSE: FTE)'s Orange IPTV box is the first commercial implementation of the CE4100 chip. Amino Communications Ltd. also has plans to introduce an Atom-powered IPTV box.

Intel wants to bring the CE4100 chip to U.S. cable, too, but claims it "cannot be economically sold" to MSOs here due to the costs of the 1394 mandate. The FCC has yet to act on Intel's request.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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