Intel pushing back launch of LCOS TV chip

Intel's LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) high-definition television chips first unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January will not be released in time for next year's show, as scheduled.

The chips, code-named Cayley, were expected to be available in digital televisions by the end of this year, according to a speech given by Intel President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini in January. But Cayley has become the latest product at Intel with a revised launch schedule, and the technology won't be released this year, said Shannon Love, an Intel spokeswoman.

"Based on customer feedback, we chose not to bring the current product into the market. We're heading down a path of developing technology that will give clear product differentiation with improved picture quality," Love said.

Intel has developed a 1-megapixel (1280 x 720p) version of the Cayley chip, and shipped samples of those chips to television vendors, said Richard Doherty, research director at The Envisioneering Group.

However, Texas Instruments (TI) currently owns the market for 1-megapixel digital televisions with its DLP (digital light processing) technology, Doherty said. Several vendors have high-definition rear-projection televisions in the market with TI's technology, and Intel and its television customers would have a tough time making any headway in an established market, he said.

Instead, Intel has a better chance of getting traction by releasing a low-cost 2-megapixel (1920 x 1080p) version of Cayley before TI launches a similar product, Doherty said. Intel is working on a 2-megapixel chip that can slide right into the 1-megapixel televisions that Intel's television customers have already designed and qualified, while TI's 2-megapixel DLP technology is expected to use a more complicated design, he said.

Intel's Love declined to comment on the company's current or future LCOS products.

Cayley is expected to become part of Intel's plan to dominate the digital home. Not content with supplying the majority of the world's processors for desktops, notebooks, and servers, Intel also wants to put its technology inside future consumer electronics products such as digital televisions, wireless media networking devices and handheld multimedia devices.

Intel expects its LCOS technology to have the same effect on digital televisions that Intel's PC chip technology had on the PC market. Otellini told CES attendees that Cayley would help lower the cost of a 50-inch rear-projection digital television to around US$1,800 in 2005. That same 50-inch television currently costs about US$3,000.

But Intel has struggled in bringing products to market this year. Its first 90-nanometer chips for desktops and notebooks were delayed. The launch of its next-generation desktop chipset resulted in a recall. Customers using the company's latest server chipset won't be able to immediately take advantage of PCI Express, a new interconnect technology pushed by Intel for years, due to a bug discovered right before that product's launch.

And to top it all off, Intel's flagship product won't reach the clock speeds promised by Otellini last year. The company said the Pentium 4 processor would reach 4GHz this year, but that date has also been pushed back amid concerns about power leakage and shortages of Intel's 3.6GHz Pentium 4 processors.

After Intel announced the Pentium 4 delay, and Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett sent a memo chastising employees about the company's recent performance, industry analyst Nathan Brookwood said that Intel was likely giving project managers a one-time "amnesty" program to reset their launch schedules to a more realistic timeframe.

"When management says, 'Meeting your schedules is a priority,' then the natural outgrowth of that is people make more conservative schedules," said Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64.

LCOS chips are less complicated than the Pentium 4 or Xeon processors that Intel manufactures in large volumes, according to company executives and analysts interviewed at CES earlier this year. The underlying silicon is relatively simple, but the tricky part in manufacturing an LCOS chip is the implementation of various layers of liquid crystal and colored glass that generate the image and sit above the silicon transistors.

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Tom Krazit

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