We're all familiar with Intel's tiny, low-power Atom CPU—without it the netbook revolution probably wouldn't have happened. But Intel has just pulled the covers off its next-gen Atom system on a chip, and it has a new target device: Your TV.
The little sliver of silicon, metal, and plastic we're talking about is the Atom CE4100, unveiled this week at the Intel Developer Forum. Formerly codenamed Sodaville, it's the first 45nm consumer electronics system on a chip based on Intel microarchitectures. If that doesn't tingle your geek nerves, then know this: the Atom CE4100 is capable of decoding two 1080p high-definition video streams simultaneously and putting out Dolby 7.1 audio while drawing a relatively tiny 7 to 9 watts of power.
By touting the chip's twin HDTV-feed powers, Intel is sending a clear signal that they're aiming the Atom at a new set of devices—possibly leaving its nascent CULV chips to power the next tranche of netbook PCs. Intel has even built in a specific software framework, the "Widget Channel," to support on-TV net-connected widgets right into the package design.
Clearly Intel is targeting the new Atom to be the engine behind next-gen Internet-enabled TVs—or at least future home-theater PC systems. The head of the Digital Home group, Eric Kim, has noted that consumers repeatedly ask for TVs to be simple: "Don't make my TV act like a PC," they say.
TV is a perfect target for Intel: We keep hearing next-gen televisions will be web- and widget-enabled (though we hope the UI is consistently better than the recent failed Twitter-TV experiment). The chip itself is relatively low powered, and the cost is low enough that it won't add significantly to the cost of the TV units. The low energy consumption could even obviate the need for a fan—imagine watching CSI or American Idol while a fan whirs away in the background.
Dare we speculate that the focus on the twin HDTV feed is a code? Does Intel think the CE4100 is ready for the promised 3-D TV explosion, given that a stereoscopic signal is needed to deliver a 3-D experience?