In an attempt to ultimately raise its stock price, Intel is trying to shock and surprise investors by keeping details scarce on unannounced products. We saw the first example of this last year with Sandy Bridge. Intel was very late in disclosing architectural details, and it took a leak to even find out about Intel’s hardware transcode engine - arguably one of the biggest, tangible features of Sandy Bridge. I’m not a financial analyst nor do I have any influence on stock price, but this seems to be a strategy that ultimately won’t work. It’s not Apple’s withholding of information that results in its very healthy stock. If Intel wants to raise its share price it will ultimately have to do two things: 1) release killer technology, 2) put said technology to good use right away without waiting on its partners to do so.

We are seeing examples of this in the market already. Intel’s Wireless Display technology leverages Intel hardware with Intel developed software. Intel Insider, is another, more recent example.

Prior to Sandy Bridge Intel mentioned something to press called Intel Insider. Details would be forthcoming (see aforementioned keep-things-secret-and-profit strategy), but the premise was something along the lines of content providers would enable HD video playback on Sandy Bridge systems. Wonderful. At this year’s CES, I got some more detail on the technology.

As I mentioned in my article on 8-channel LPCM over HDMI article, content owners are worried about putting high quality video or audio content on the PC. The fear is of course completely misplaced and misguided because even with the absurd amount of DRM in place on every form of high definition video media, pirated content is just as easy to come by as it ever was. Regardless, content owners will be content owners and they tend to flip out about things like providing super high resolution/high bitrate video to PCs. The thinking is that PCs are too easily compromised and thus the ultra-secure Blu-ray DRM should be the only way to get the best quality video on the PC.

Apparently, according to Intel, this is part of the reason that online video streaming services like iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand don’t offer high bitrate 1080p videos.


A simplified encryption/decryption diagram for Blu-ray playback on a PC

With Sandy Bridge, this all changes. The on-die GPU already features the necessary protected audio and video paths to play full resolution Blu-ray discs - this part is nothing new. Intel still isn’t providing a lot of details on what else has been added to SNB, but apparently there’s enough in the way of key generation, authentication, protected pathways and storage on-die that at least two content providers are comfortable with trusting PCs to download and stream higher-quality video content.

Both WBshop.com and Best Buy’s Cinema Now will enable support for Intel Insider at some point in the future. Upon detecting that you have a Sandy Bridge (Core i3 and above) you’ll be given access to download/stream higher resolution/bitrate content. The big unknown is how close you’ll get to a Blu-ray source of course.

The holy grail is Blu-ray quality streaming video to your PC the day of release in theaters. However a more realistic goal is Blu-ray quality streaming the day of release on BD. Either way, I’m curious to see if whatever Intel has done in SNB is enough to convince content owners to make BD quality streaming happen. While Amazon, iTunes and Netflix streaming is good, it’s not enough for very large screen sizes (and definitely not projector setups) - we need better. I’d prefer if we didn’t have to jump through hoops to make this happen, but until we all band together and start a movie studio I’m not sure if we’ll ever get around DRM enabled content.

As for whether or not this is an important feature of SNB - it really boils down to the implementation on the software/service provider side. Intel Insider itself isn’t enough to get excited about, what it enables will make or break the feature.

 

Special thanks to Venya for helping with the photos for this and other CES articles

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  • Exelius - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    This is a very curious article... I don't know why you bring up the stock price issue; of course, raising the stock price is the goal of any company. But due to the release/adoption cycle of a company like Intel, ANY feature is unlikely to have any impact on share price any time soon. Also; this feature is of limited use to the server market, which is a pretty significant part of Intel's business. Stocks are based off expected profits, sure, but the majority of Intel's revenue comes from scheduled replacement / obsolescence. There's no immediate pressure for Intel's new products either; upgrade cycles are complicated and overlap a lot. A product announcement from Intel takes months to make an impact financially, where Apple will release a new product and it will have an immediate impact on the cash flows of the company. That's how consumer products work though.

    Also; strong form market efficiency says that keeping information secret will have zero impact on the stock price. The information is priced into the stock whether it is public or not. The market knows what Intel is spending on R&D and they know the expected return of that R&D. Over the long term (which is what stock price measures) these numbers are pretty accurate.

    In other words, stick to the tech Anand. Secrecy is marketing; in Apple's case they sometimes cut or change features at the last minute so they don't want to hype features they can't deliver by the release date. In this case, the secrecy created intrigue: what could Intel's secret announcement be? It's just a marketing trick, and an old one. There's something amazing behind the curtain, but it ceases to be amazing once I pull back the curtain.
    Reply
  • HibyPrime1 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    I think what Anand was getting at isn't the history of Intel's stock, its a situation they were hoping to create in spite of it's history, taking queues from what they believed made Apple's stock go up after their releases. It's a very likely situation, because just as you said Intel's stock is (or at least should be, I don't know the specifics) not all that time-varying. It's not hard to imagine them trying out a gimmick to give them short term benefits with little to no long term issues.

    It could very well have had nothing to do with trying to tinker with their stock, and could have been solely marketing based. It's not something that anyone outside of Intel could know for sure.

    The other point you made, about the product not being immediately related to profits is exactly what the article is talking about, and is giving a new example of how they're trying to change that. See quote.

    "If Intel wants to raise its share price it will ultimately have to do two things: 1) release killer technology, 2) put said technology to good use right away without waiting on its partners to do so."
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    Never understood why content owners are afraid of audio being ripped and pirated. I mean, seriously now. And with HDCP permanently broken, this isn't going to really help. Reply
  • jasperjones - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    "The thinking is that PCs are too easily compromised and thus the ultra-secure Blu-ray DRM should be the only way to get the best quality video on the PC."

    Blu-ray ultra-secure? I'm a non-native speaker and obv must be missing the irony here--you can't be that unworldly :)
    Reply
  • rajaf - Monday, March 28, 2011 - link

    I have to agree. Torrent sites are full of Blu-ray rips, some even before the official release. Reply
  • designerfx - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    uh, DRM will be gone when these companies are ready to grow and realize the 21st century. Basically when the old out of touch execs die, so anywhere from 10-15 years from now.

    in the meantime, we're all not even inconvenienced, it just becomes one more company to avoid. AACS doesn't even stop bluray ripping, and after that the rest doesn't matter. Why do you need 1080P streaming when you can download a 1080P movie in less time than it takes to watch it?

    good riddance to intel - with this DRM on a chip and graphics integrated with every single cpu, who would want their products? what a waste. For once I actually hope Nvidia outcompetes intel.
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    Could you clarify how the presence of a feature YOU will (obviously) never use affect you? Reply
  • mino - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    .. how does ... Reply
  • derek_b - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    "uh, DRM will be gone when these companies are ready to grow and realize the 21st century. Basically when the old out of touch execs die, so anywhere from 10-15 years from now."

    Don't forget that the idealistic teenagers of the 60s became the stock-brokers of the 80s. I expect the kids of today may even adopt a _more_ conservative attitude when they eventually come to take charge of the financial bottom line.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    You don't put your faith in the hippes man, you put your faith in the geeks! Reply

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