CNET reports that Intel is now alpha testing its upcoming TV streaming service, code-named "Black Box Project," with thousands of Intel employees, meaning the company is getting closer to a retail release.
The testing actually began in late March in the homes of more than 2,000 Intel employees in Northern California, Arizona, and Oregon -- new testers are being added every day. These employees are required to endure confidentiality training, and only allowed to use the set-top box in their homes with their families.
Several testers have supposedly stepped forward, reporting that the product installed involves early trial hardware and an old version of the user interface design. The software itself will have many similarities to the final version including how users will navigate the system, but the hardware design will be completely different, meaning Intel will likely use the latest and greatest in technology at launch.
"What people are using now is not the final product," one of the people told CNET. Another added that the trial content available on the current box is not representative of what Intel will finally release to retail -- a statement that covers possible leaks of the TV streaming service from here on out.
Based on the sources, Intel is currently gathering information on order taking, usage habits, quality and stability of the service, and the performance of the back-end system. Intel is also evaluating the responsiveness of its "Audience Care" customer service system. Sources said feedback from the employees is incorporated into updates, thus the final product will be completely different than the alpha program.
That said, it's an evolving product based on Intel's design, employee use and their response to features, bugs and more. By the end of the test program, the user interface should be somewhat similar to what Intel plans for the retail version slated to launch by the end of the year, they said.
Intel undoubtedly has time to get the platform right, but CNET points out that the chip maker still has some hurdles to overcome, one of which is landing content deals. Time Warner Cable and other cable TV providers have reportedly pressed content owners not to strike a deal with Intel and other Internet TV providers, fearing that customers will cut the cord. But Intel seems confident that it will have a deal in place before Black Box launches at the end of 2013.