Intel, the biggest maker of semiconductors, has given many of its processors names that recall base metals – such as Itanium and Pentium – as the slivers of silicon have become the hot inner core of millions of computers.
But with the promotion of its new Viiv (which rhymes with “five”) brand at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, as well as the retirement of its “Intel Inside” logo, the company is leading a charge by chipmakers out of the confines of the PC and into the digital home.
Chipmakers are set to benefit as high-definition televisions and entertainment centres become dependent on computer chips tuned to multimedia uses.
While Intel has Viiv, its biggest processor rival AMD is on Wednesday chiming in with similar-sounding AMD Live!, while Texas Instruments will be pushing its DLP television technology and Da Vinci multimedia chips.
Effective branding strategies will be key to their success in a world where Sony or Samsung is synonymous with stylish devices for the home.
“Viiv is a departure for Intel,” says David Placek, whose company Lexicon Branding came up with the new name.
“It still has a feeling of something elemental, but it reflects a leader moving to a different level that is now more human – there is a vitality and a vibrance in Viiv.
“With the digital world becoming completely integrated with our lives, we believe Viiv, with its simplicity and aliveness, will be quite easy for consumers to embrace as part of their digital life.”
But Intel may find the established players in consumer electronics less welcoming and even unwilling to have the Viiv badge displayed alongside their own brand.
The chipmaker has adopted a separate strategy to win over the industry, based on its standards-setting work in the PC world, where it has championed innovations such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectivity.
“In the living room, there’s a real problem of a proliferation of devices that do not interface with one another – how do you hook them up and share content?” asks Eric Kim, Intel’s chief marketing officer and former head of marketing for Samsung.
The Viiv brand, he argues, will assure users of interoperability as content is exchanged between devices made by different manufacturers and Intel is in a unique position to help the consumer electronics industry achieve this.
“I come from Samsung and it could clearly not do this for Sony or Philips or Panasonic, so there’s a real need for an industry third-party player that can provide leadership on interoperability,” Mr Kim says.
Viiv will provide a platform of dual-core processors and chipsets designed to speed the handling of multimedia files in different formats and reproduce them in high-definition video and surround sound. It is appearing first in PC-like devices running Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software and AMD is developing its new Live! platform as an alternative for buyers of Media Center devices.
Lacking the resources of its much larger rival, it will not launch a marketing blitz and will seek partnerships.
“We are not trying to displace the devices that are already in the living room, we have a more collaborative approach,” says Hal Speed, marketing architect at AMD.
“We are trying to bring together the best of both worlds, with partners such as set-top box makers where we can help combine the broadcast world with what comes over the broadband network.”
TI made earlier inroads into consumer electronics with the DSP (digital signal processor) chips that it specialises in proving to be an ideal solution for many manufacturers wanting fast processing of multimedia content. It has innovated with its DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology offering an alternative to LCD and Plasma televisions.
At CES, TI is likely to be pushing its Da Vinci multimedia chips, although the brand is more likely to be seen on an inner circuit board than on the outside of a product.
“Our aim is to work with our customers and we don’t see any advantage to the customer in putting the TI name on the outside,” says Doug Rasor, head of TI’s worldwide strategic marketing.
He warns: “I think Intel is going to have a hard time getting much traction with that strategy in the consumer space. It’s different from the PC world – in consumer electronics, you have to earn your business one customer relationship at a time.”