Australian Company Altech will be among a group of select Companies who will demonstrate for the first time the new Intel Viiv platform at work.

Altech has been chosen to to show off the first Intel based ePCs based on its much talked about Viiv platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 5.

Steve Dallman, Intel’s director of channel sales and marketing, said Viiv will combine a media-centric PC platform with a validation program to ensure components are interoperable, targeting marketing, and an effort to increase available content for the systems.

It’s a launch that Dallman believes will be crucial to the solution provider channel because it provides a flexible platform that begs for customisation and in-home services. “This is the reason resellers will do well with Viiv,” he said. “They can set the functionality and price points based on user desires.”

The Viiv platform calls for a PentiumD dual-core processor coupled with a motherboard using either an Intel 945, 955x or next-generation Calistoga chipsets; 1Gbit Ethernet; high-definition video; surround sound audio; and the capability to control all devices connected to the system through one remote control device. It also requires support for Intel’s Matrix Storage, technology that lets either a consumer or an integrator configure RAID 5 and data mirroring, and Intel Quick Resume technology that the company promises will turn on Viiv systems as quickly as any consumer electronics device.

Intel has so far declined to reveal specific spending on its Viiv marketing plan. But the company famously threw $400 million at another high profile launch–is Centrino mobile platform that many solution provider credit with boosting the overall market for notebooks and wireless networking.

Like the Centrino launch where Intel promised that Centrino-branded notebooks would always work like-branded wireless networks, Dallman said marketing efforts for Viiv will include driving consumers to Viiv-branded products from the Media Center PCs to compatible add-in products, such portable media players or automation products.

“This is the largest market validation endeavor Intel has taken on,” said Dallman.

Intel also is setting up calls centers in cooperation with participating Viiv manufacturers to field initial consumer calls. A separate center will be set up for those building and installing the systems, he added.

By the start of the show, Dallman expects to have 400 of its channel partners including the likes of Altech, Westan and Optima trained on the Viiv platform. Of that 400, he expects 50 to 100 to have Viiv-certified systems. A variety of Viiv form factors are expected at CES, from standard tower systems to high-end devices that are more like consumer electronics products in look and feel–some with LCD screens on the front. Some of these models will be aimed at consumers while others will be focused on audio/video installers and digital home integrators. Price points are expected to range from $2,000 to $7,000.

Microsoft, of course, started the ePC trend with its Windows XP Media Center Edition, and since then a number of solution providers have not only begun building specialised ePCs but several also have launched separate companies to take advantage of providing in-home integration services to the mass market. But Media Center PCs are still a small slice of overall consumer PC sales and systems builders are hoping that Intel will change that.

“I look at the Viiv launch as rise in tide that will float all the boats and expand the overall market for entertainment PCs,” said Steve Jarvis, president of Elite PC’s.

Jarvis is particularly keen on the marketing plan surrounding Viiv and expects a big boost in consumer awareness as a result. Elite PC in 2005 spun off a separate company to focus on ePCs called ZLife. Jarvis said the company is putting together custom sites for integrator partners that want to sell Viiv systems from ZLife. The sites include an onsite Web configure of ePCs that ZLife can drop-ship to integrators or their customers.

Meanwhile, Shayne Yonce, CEO of CDI and its spin-off Digital Home PC, says the Viiv platform and its RAID requirement is a strong selling point in today’s market, especially as end uses continue to store more and more digital files on hard drives. “It’s not a question of ‘if you hard drive fails’ it is ‘when your hard drive fails,” he says. “When it happens we can make sure you do not experience a devastating event. You still have all your pictures and all your data.”

Zambroski notes that ACE Computers’ highest end model for the A/V community comes with 3 terabytes of data, enough storage to warehouse tons of music, pictures and movies.

That’s a lot of space for digital content, but many integrators say it will be needed as more digital services and content are deliver to the home and small office over broadband. Intel will host some content providers at CES endorsing the Viiv platform, but the real push will come mid-year when Intel releases its 1.5 specification with stronger Digital Rights Management (DRM) than currently available in Microsoft’s Media Center Edition, Dallman says. “That’s when we will see some exciting things for Viiv,” says Dezel Lane, CDI’s manager of digital home PCs.

That is also around the time Microsoft plans to launch its new 64-bit operating system, Vista, which system builders systems expect will give Viiv an additional boost.  The bottom line from systems builders: expect a good Viiv introduction at CES but expect to see some serious growth in the second half of the year.

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