Intel Corp.’s latest chip line is arriving this week with a surprise link to Hollywood: security technology that has persuaded some companies to let personal-computer users view movies and television shows in a top-quality video format for the first time.
The Silicon Valley giant is announcing the new chips at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, along with deals with companies that distribute video content over the Internet. Though they have long let PC users view or download videos—including movies labeled as high-definition—piracy concerns have deterred studios from offering content in a particularly high-resolution format called 1080p that has become popular on home HDTV sets in recent years.
Intel says its updated Core microprocessors, known by the code name Sandy Bridge, come with a previously undisclosed feature called Intel Insider that helps prevent piracy of purchased 1080p video on PCs powered by the chips. Some companies that have studied it say they are impressed.
“The new Intel technology is a fundamental change for us,” said Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution. “It creates a fundamentally more secure platform in the PC environment.”
The Time Warner Inc. unit typically makes digital movies in standard definition available for download or streaming when DVDs are available, or several months after their release in theaters. Now the company expects to also start distributing high-definition films over the Internet to PCs powered by the new Intel chips, in 1080p as well as a format called 720p.
Another supporter is Sonic Solutions, a Novato, Calif., company that manages digital distribution for retailers and other companies. Dave Habiger, its chief executive, predicts most studios will begin offering their content to users of Intel-equipped PCs in the high-end format. “I can’t imagine anyone would argue against high-quality movies,” said Mr. Habiger, whose company recently agreed to be purchased by Rovi Corp. for $720 million.
There are some significant online distributors that aren’t part of Intel’s announcement, including Apple Inc., operator of the popular iTunes service. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC client group, said the company is in a “very advanced stage” of talks with other distributors. Intel expects services offering the 1080p content to be available in the first quarter.
Users won’t necessarily have to watch such content on PCs. Intel, in another feature of the new Core line, is enhancing a technology that allows users to wirelessly send images from a laptop to an HDTV equipped with a receiver. The existing version of the technology—which is called Wi-Di, for Wireless Display—only worked with 720p high-definition video, not the higher-quality 1080p images. The new version does, Mr. Eden said, and adds new content-protection features.
Technology that can help get 1080p video to computers and then on to TV sets is “certainly an opportunity” for content distributors, said Kurt Scherf, an analyst at Parks Associates. His firm estimates that about 8% of TV watchers are already connecting their laptops to television sets, in most cases using a cable connection known as HDMI. But the Intel-backed effort isn’t as significant as some other potential changes on the horizon, such as the possibility that studios will begin offering movies earlier over digital channels, Mr. Scherf said.
Besides Intel Insider, previously undisclosed features of the new Core chip include Quick Sync Video, which Intel said converts one video format to another at ultra high speed.
The Santa Clara, Calif., company and rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. at CES are discussing the benefits of combining basic calculating functions on the same piece of silicon with circuitry for handling graphics and video. Intel is announcing 20 models of the new Core chips, which it said have been selected to power more than 500 new systems from large and small PC makers. Those manufacturers are expected to discuss their plans at the CES show. The chips come in models with two to four processing units and other features that are tailored for various configurations of desktop and laptop computers. Prices for the chips range from $117 to $1,096, Intel said.