Erik Huggers, General Manager of Intel Media, has confirmed that the company is, in fact, working on providing television over the internet, and it plans to do so with new consumer hardware that Huggers described as something with "beautiful industrial design." He says the service will be relatively full-featured: "we will have live television, catch-up television, on-demand, [and] a set of applications." The hardware will also include a camera — which can be turned off — that will apparently watch users as they watch TV (including, possibly, for targeting ads). Huggers said one use case for the camera could include synchronizing viewing with viewers across the country for a "real social experience." The camera could also theoretically recognize users in order to provide personalized show recommendations.
Discussing Intel's plans at the Dive into Media conference, Huggers declined to name the service, which will launch later this year. "We're working with the entire industry to figure out how to get proper television," Huggers says, pointing out that making the consumer box isn't nearly as difficult as making deals to provide the content. Pressed about whether or not Intel would offer a la carte television channels or bundles of channels, Huggers said that consumers want "choice, control, and convenience," but said that he really did "believe that there is value in bundles." He suggested that Intel would try to do bundles "right," and that "I don't believe that the industry is ready for a la carte." That apparently means creating bundles that focus on "curation" instead of "volume" — which could mean content-specific bundles.
"We're working with the entire industry to figure out how to get proper television."
Another challenge is building the software. Huggers repeated complaints we just heard from Facebook about the standard TV guide grid, saying "it reminds me of my first computer, the Commodore 64. I think there's a lot of room for improvement there." He also hinted that Intel would "delight" consumers with other features — referencing how difficult it is to integrate a new set-top box in a standard living room setup. He also said that changing channels takes too long on most other digital channels, something he expects Intel to solve. Huggers says that "there is no platform out there today" that could deliver the experience Intel is aiming towards, but it will be available on devices like the iPad.
Intel will use the HEVC video codec instead of H.264, which Huggers says can provide much better video. Speaking to the (very real) concern of data caps on broadband, he says that Intel thinks they'll stay within them for most users — but long term those caps will either go up or go away. As for cost, Huggers said that the new service is "not about a value play," but instead offering a "vastly superior experience," which along with his comments about channel bundling suggests that Intel is not likely to save consumers much money over a more traditional cable subscription.
Why is Intel doing all this? "Intel is very interested in [having] a direct connection to the consumer," Huggers says, which is a fairly big change for the chip maker. Huggers says there is very broad support for Intel Media's project within the company at large, and that the new TV service and box are more than just experiments. Even so, Intel Media is somewhat separated from the rest of the company in a separate building with a separate group — similar to what Microsoft did with the Xbox.
Update: CNET spoke to Huggers after the event, and learned a few more interesting tidbits about the service, primarily that it won't be Intel-branded. "When I say Intel, you will automatically think 'Inside.' That's what we've all been trained," he told the publication. The service will also come to smartphones at some point, and the software will be constantly updated. Intel's already testing the service inside employee homes, according to the executive.