bit-tech: Don, Viiv is now almost on the store shelves. How are you feeling? Don MacDonald: Well, I think I should be feeling better at this stage, since we're almost there... but it's a bit like nerves before a date. It's pretty similar to the launch of Centrino that I was involved in. You're nervous because you're reliant on other people - we could have our plans and even if they went according to the letter, you also have to get everyone else on board. As we stand, we're exhausted - but the launch is looking good.
BT: One of the major issues is pricing - how can Viiv compete with set-top boxes? You can now get PVRs for £200. Are Viiv PCs providing 3-4-5 times the experience for the money? DM: First of all, price points are almost a version of Moore's Law. Natural gravity applies here - when you introduce a new technology, it waterfalls downwards very quickly. Centrino started off at the premium price points and very rapidly filtered down through everything.
Viiv will do the same thing - every price point where there is a Pentium processor now, you will see a Viiv machine in a year or two.
How will Viiv stack up against a $100 set top box? Consumers want to be able to get their content in multiple locations around the home. It's not a case of either/or, it's asking how you can have everything. You can get a better entertainment experience by having a main Viiv box that then Viiv verified set top boxes around the home that works together. There's a suggestion that we have to deliver five times the experience for a $500 PC versus a $100 set top box - I'd say we're on track to do that.
It's not just about the processor, either. If you look at our ability to integrate technologies - such as video processing, TV tuners - today, a whole bunch of things are standalone chips, and each one of those generates heat and cost. You can begin to see that those features will begin to get integrated into chipsets and bring prices down. Look at maths co-processors - they started at $500, then went to $99, then were integrated into the 486.
BT: Viiv seems to be as much about the software and the accessories as it is the actual PC systems. Is that fair to say? DM: Yes, it's about the ecosystem too. One of the major things we've had to answer is how do you make sure that these things, like services, devices, get integrated and work together better? We're going to do the same with Viiv as we did with Centrino. Look at things like hotspots or wireless cards, they are a fraction of the price now that they were at the time just before we launched Centrino. In 2006, people will start to build networking directly into the TV or set top box and that will bring down pricing too.
Right now we've hardly got anyone connecting their TV to their PC - we have to create that usage model. If people will value the user experience, then they're more likely to buy devices that include our chips.
In terms of services, in a few years, the definition of content or service provider gets interesting. We have to look at healthcare, education, home automation, and we have a roadmap where we continue to deliver that. Viiv is going to be a product that keeps growing - it's a base platform that everyone else who has a service can design for.
The challenge for someone is to bring a product to market. You don't want to have to reinvent networking or ease of use - you can build for Viiv and know that we have done all that work already. If you're a small label band, you don't have to go and set up a services infrastructure to get your music out, we've done all that, you can get onto this.
BT: Is it possible to brand a laptop computer as both Viiv and Centrino? Presumably, there are some laptops that will have the same core features as many Viiv desktops. DM: Not if I have my way, no. Centrino stands for mobility. This is my view: you need to stand for one thing or another. That doesn't mean you can't do more than one thing, but you have to stand for one thing. Centrino means best in class wireless, battery life, performance per watt etc. Since notebooks are now more than 50% of the market in the developing world, does that mean notebooks will have the ability to do the things that Viiv PCs can do? Of course that's true, but it doesn't need to be branded that. One Intel brand will obviously play very nicely with another and have access to the same technology. How we communicate this to the public is a more complex issue.