AMD launches Live! entertainment PC platform

Sunnyvale (CA) - If you are not quite convinced that you want an Intel Viiv PC in your living room, then here is another option: AMD promises similar functionality and "real world solutions" with beefed up entertainment center PCs. "Live!" PCs will act behind the scenes, rather than physically invading the family room, and act as the digital nerve center of a home.

Live arrives almost half a year after the launch of Intel's Viiv and could be late to the party. Given the fact that Intel made far less progress with establishing its Viiv platform in the past six months than many industry observers had expected, however, may put AMD in a situation where the distance to its competitor becomes insignificant and in fact may help the company take advantage of the overall traction of entertainment PCs that has been generated by Intel.

AMD claims that a total of 40 system builders will begin offering Live-branded systems in June. Among others, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Acer and even performance PC maker Alienware are expected to be offering Live systems.

Just as Intel's Viiv, Live calls for very specific hardware and software requirements. According to AMD, a Live PC requires at least a dual-core AM2-based Athlon 64 X2 4200+ processor, needs to run Microsoft's Windows XP MCE operating system with a capability to upgrade to Windows Vista and display the operating system's Aero Glass graphical interface. Other requirements include at least 1 GB of system memory, a SATA hard drive and a DVD burner. Interestingly, a TV tuner as well as HDMI support with HDCP are just recommended, but not required.

Other than Intel, AMD is looking into segmenting its entertainment PC platform - in mainstream multimedia devices and higher-performing systems that can deliver enough performance to run video games. The FX-62 processor is part of the Live specification, but such computers will also have to include two graphics cards, and at least two hard drives in RAID configuration.

While the functionality of Viiv and Live systems is similar in general, both companies take a different approach in their product strategy and supporting services. Intel never made a secret out its intent to move Viiv PCs to the center of family rooms, from where digital content is distributed to any platform that is capable of displaying it. As a result, Viiv PCs often resemble the look of a DVD player or at least come in a family-room-friendly design and offer a functionality that one would expect from consumer electronics. This includes a simplified user interface and quick power-up functions. Intel also focuses heavily on bringing exclusive content to Viiv PC owners.

AMD in contrast considers Intel's strategy as "flawed." On the content side, Live systems will not offer exclusive content, but concentrate on storing and delivering consumer owned content. "Live is not about finding premium content for the home," a spokesperson told TG Daily. However, the company conceded that it is looking into making special interest content available to all users of the platform. Another difference is the Live product strategy: rather than replacing consumer electronics devices, a Live PC will remain a "PC" and complement existing systems, such as set-top boxes. Live PCs will also continue to look like common PCs and are unlikely to be physically located in the family room. AMD believes that this approach will have a less "disruptive" impact on the TV experience consumers are used to today.

However, AMD also wants to create a digital nerve center with its Live specification and believes that five applications will be key to reach that goal: "On Demand" will be able to synchronize as well as stream live and prerecorded video and audio content; "Compress" will compress digital content in a 10:1 ratio and a 10% quality loss; "Network Magic" enables simple home network management; "LogMeIn" enables remote access to stored content via an Internet connection and "Media Vault" automatically backs up digital content to a "secure online server" - 25 GB of space are provided free of charge, according to AMD.

Both Viiv and Live offer sound concepts that could bring a new level of interactivity to the way we watch TV, listen to music and play video games. In the current scenario, Live is by far the more cautious approach to guide the user towards a PC-supported home entertainment experience. But, both Viiv and Live, do have considerable weaknesses, including a price tag many mainstream users may not feel comfortable with and a lack of high-definition support. And even then, many consumers still have to be convinced that an entertainment center PC in fact offers additional real-world value and makes more sense than the common set-top box and a DVD player.