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Quest for Windows Media Center Demand

At the International Consumer Electronics (CES) event, AMD announced new products, OEM reference designs and software for its LIVE! initiative. Part of the CES announcements included the AMD LIVE! Home Cinema entertainment system.

"The last time I wrote about AMD LIVE! and Intel Viiv, I gave AMD credit for not actively pursuing living room PCs. That has changed," says Carl Gressum, Senior Analyst at IT research firm Ovum. "In my opinion, AMD should focus on what it does well -- semiconductors -- not on developing living room PCs."

With the advent of the Windows Media Center OS, PC vendors sought to create a new category of PCs aimed at the living room. The idea was to sell high-end PCs in alternative form factors to make them more acceptable in the living room space, be connected to the television and be the center for digital media and TV viewing. Not only could a vendor sell a normal desktop or notebook PC, but also a living room PC, to the same consumer.

Products were brought to market, and they flopped one after the other, according to Ovum. Hardly any consumers bought them because, Gressum explains, "the PC platform is a poor performer for TV purposes. It is complex, expensive and offers few advantages that single-function, discrete devices cannot offer."

"It is to my great surprise," says Gressum, "that AMD has launched its AMD LIVE! Home Cinema OEM reference design. Sure, the audio system is better than on most living room PCs, but it fails to address the PC's two main faults: the complexity of its underlying architecture and the fact that the market is not interested at all in letting the PC control the TV."

The PC platform is plagued by malware, spyware, viruses and Trojan horses, and "these are problems consumers do not want to deal with in the living room." Do not forget that the PC architecture's complexity is not required for watching TV. There is little or no need for office applications, web browsers or email suites on the main TV.

"Even if the PC platform can handle TV and video applications, it does not mean, from a consumer perspective, it's the most appropriate platform to sit underneath the television," says Gressum. "There is a market for a more advanced TV device than a dumb set-top box or DVD player, but this device will not be a PC".

A product with an embedded operating system, with a limited set of provider-controlled applications, all within an intuitive and simple-to-use interface, is one such possibility. Ovum believes if AMD's goal is to develop this market, it needs to change the operating system requirements to include embedded systems. It also needs to consider whether it is worthwhile to invest resources and foster industry relationships in a market where the biggest OEMs have largely failed.

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