Intel's Viiv: latest player in the convergence game

It's baa-ack. Remember convergence? The idea that the PC and the TV would coexist peacefully in the family room and other "living" rooms in the house? So far it hasn't happened, with pioneer technologies like Microsoft's WebTV and Thomson's Network Computer having bit the convergence dust early on. And remember the "Internet Appliance?" No one else does either. But Intel, along with life partner Microsoft, won't give up. This time it's Intel's Viiv technology and Microsoft's juiced-up Media Center PCs running it that are promising to launch the TV into the Internet Age.

At the heart of Viiv (pronounced like "five") technology is a two-brained chip that divvies up processing power so you can handle two high-octane tasks at once, say, hammer away at a PC video game while downloading the latest action flick from Google Video (and some 40 other content and service providers currently testing Viiv out). The best news coming out of this stab at convergence is that Viiv machines will start up quick — so it's more like turning on a TV rather than the long boot of a standard PC.

With content reigning king, Intel has inked deals with AOL, NBC, and DirecTV for music and video content. Viiv-based PCs will offer music and video from Movielink, DISCover, and MusicMatch — for a fee. The souped-up PCs deliver DVD playback, 7.1-channel surround sound, photo sharing, and digital video recording à la rival TiVo. First-gen Viiv PCs, available from Dell, HP and others, can look like either a traditional PC or an A/V component. A home-networking upgrade is expected this fall, along with the add-on devices to extend the Viiv experience throughout your house: set-top boxes, DVD players, TVs, and digital media adapters.