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 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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  • 3DoubleD - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    While DRM is obviously important to content owners despite its complete and utter failure, there is one other reason why 1080p streaming hasn't come to fruition: North America has terribly slow internet connections.

    A quick search reveals that the US average download speed in 2009 was 5.1 mbps. This is certainly well below the bitrate of a BD and even below the bitrate of properly encoded 1080p x.264 files. High quality streaming will never be realized until average internet speeds dramatically improve.

    ... I'm not holding my breath though. At least in Canada, all ISPs are also cable/satellite providers who have no financial interest in seeing cable/satellite go the way of the dinosaur. They will fight to their last breath before they let that happen - net neutrality be damned. 2000 - 2010 was the lost decade where we barely saw any speed increases to "high-speed" internet. Here's for hoping 2010 - 2020 is different! (and that movie studios wake up and abandon DRM already)
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    My thoughts exactly, I've used both broadband options in the area I live in and both can be hit or miss on what is currently available (Netflix, ESPN3, MLB.TV HD, etc). Now obviously some of this could be server load related and not just my connection, but if that is the case the servers are unlikely to be able to deal with release-day streaming of Blu-ray quality content either.
  • HibyPrime1 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    I was under the impression that Canada and the US were among the areas with the highest bandwidth, with only a few countries beating us out.

    I'm in Toronto. I remember when we first got broadband it was ~2000, I don't remember the specific speed, but I do remember downloading ~200MB movies (remember those days of crappy quality, 1080p? naw, try 180p) in round about an hour - which is about 0.5Mbits/s, it was also the only speed available other than dial-up. My connection is at 10Mbits/s now, and it's far from the fastest available here, which I think is round about 25Mbits/s. At least where I am, speeds have increased a lot.

    Why would you expect to have high-bitrate 1080p streaming available anyway? Bandwidth overage prices aside, ISP prices would skyrocket from all the extra needed servers and cabling with everyone streaming blu-rays every night. An additional problem created by the even more infrastructure needed, is that competition would have even less of a chance than they do now. They already bend you over and step up from behind, you don't need them to grab your hair too.
  • 3DoubleD - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    If you search "internet speed by country" and find the global results you will see that North America is far behind. Canada is ranked #36/#61 for download/upload speeds while the US is similarly ranked #33/#35. These numbers don't even paint the full picture though. The top 9 countries with the highest average download speeds are 20mbps+.

    I admit that you caught me exaggerating, internet speeds did improve between 2000 and 2010. I'm on 4/0.4mbps DSL (no data cap) through and independent ISP. But the improvement in North America (excluding Verizon's FTTH in the US) is rather insignificant in comparison to the pace set by 30+ countries around the world. In Toronto (Canada's largest city) I buy a synchronous 10/10mbps connection as a consumer? No. How about 50/50, 100/100, 1000/1000? Surely not, yet all of these services are widely available in many other countries. (By the way, I'm not saying everyone needs 1000/1000mbps connections, just pointing out how behind the times our infrastructure is at this time)

    You quote the fastest available residential speed in Toronto as ~25 mbps (probably Bell Fibe, which is 25/7mbps). This is actually a very interesting service which supports my previous point about the conflict of interest that our Telcom providers are guilty of:

    Yes, Bell Fibe can give you up to 25 mbps via DSL (provided you have fiber really close to your home - which is rare even in the city). However, if you watch their Bell Fibe TV, the video/audio bandwidth is taken from your 25 mbps - your internet connection slows down! At first you would think "that's fine, it is the same if I streamed it over the internet" - this is wrong, it isn't fine. Bell Fibe comes with a 65 GB monthly data cap... but TV does not come out of that cap. Bell just blew Net Neutrality away, how can you differentiate one type of data from the other if it is coming over the same fiber/phone line? It is blatantly anti-competitive.

    What if you wanted Bell Fibe internet without Bell Fibe TV? If you tried to stream the same HD content (assuming the same bitrate ~5mbps) then you would hit your 65 GB cap in about 30 hours.

    Also, how can we accept the excuse that their fiber networks can't handle the extra traffic from streaming video when that is precisely what they are doing?

    The sad state of affairs in Canada (and to some extent the US) is likely due to the lack of competition. In Ontario, Bell owns all of the phone lines and Rogers OR Cogeco own the cable. Any other ISP must purchase wholesale from these companies to offer services. How did it get this way? The government handed it to them! Make no mistake, there is NO competition in this market already, demanding better service will not make it any harder for new companies to enter the market.

    So what is the current situation:
    1) Telcoms who own everything (with government sanction): phone, cable/satellite, internet
    2) Internet services (existing or upcoming) that threaten phone and cable/satellite services

    The result:
    1) Data caps (crush streaming video - eg. Rogers lowered their cap when Netflix went live in Canada)
    2) Loss of Net Neutrality (See Bell Fibe)
    3) 2nd class internet infrastructure (do you really think it is acceptable that Canada is #36/#61 - we are on the G8!)
  • Exodite - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    I got my own place in '97 and it had 10/10 Mbit already. Strictly speaking 100/100 but the router limited bandwidth to 10/10. This wasn't cable or some glorified DSL alternative either but Ethernet.

    No data cap.

    Now, in my current place of residence, I have the same 10/10 Mbit Ethernet but the option of upgrading to 100/100 through my choice of ISP. I'm currently enjoying 100/100 Mbit Ethernet, uncapped, for the cost of ~$10 US a month.

    Granted this isn't true for every residential location in the country but it's by no means rare or the exception either.

    Just to give some perspective.

    (Sweden here by the way.)
  • 3DoubleD - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - link

    I am so jealous. $10/mo for uncapped 10/10 mbps internet. The nagging proof of how badly North Americans are ripped off. It isn't like Sweden has insanely high population densities either. On the other hand, I live in a 35 story condo (eg. high population density) and I pay $45/mo for uncapped (not for much longer though) 4/0.4 mbps internet. The difference as I understand it is that Sweden has a healthy ISP market where competition occurs. We could learn a lot from our Swedish friends!
  • BugblatterIII - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    LoveFilm is our Netflix. They recently added the ability to stream content to the PS3, which as far as I'm aware is far more secure than PCs (in that it's only recently been pwned).

    The streaming quaity is abysmal. I tried the free trial and didn't bother watching a single film; the quaity was worse than SD TV.

    I have a 20Mbps cable connection so the bandwidth was there at my end; until they get some decent quality streaming they really have nothing to offer.

    Anyway I'm not so sure that the illusion of increased security is really going to do the trick in getting decent HD streaming out there; content owners tend to be at least five years behind content consumers.

    I also remember all the DRM crap MS added to Vista to appease the content owners. Damn stuff stopped my brand new Plantronics BlueTooth headset from working (because I might have been trying to copy DRMd audio over USB audio apparently!). After many hours of trying different drivers and 'fixes' from the internet I discovered I had to get a replacement dongle.

    Hopefully Intel's new initiative won't cause that kind of issue, but it's interesting that all those people who had to buy new TVs and so on just because their old one didn't support HDCP will now have to buy a new PC, again just to get some more built-in DRM functionality.

    And the end result? Legitimate customers have to jump through all these hoops and pay for new equipment. Those willing to downlod pirated content have it easy. So are they discouraging piracy or encouraging it?

    Hmm, that started off as a nice reasonable little post; then it got away from me a little ;o)
  • cbgoding - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    Yeah, when a pirated copy is easier to use than the official one, there's a problem. Looking at you, iTunes!
  • visibilityunlimited4 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    I usually purchase a product only after I have enough information to answer my questions and calm my doubts. I like to read the manual before making a decision to see what I have to do to use the item. I like to read comparisons to show how the product compares with the alternatives. Marketing is all about information. The more information the better.
    Sometimes a company is insecure or trying to hide a weakness in their product and so withhold the information that would act against them. This DRM on a chip is purely a HTPC feature when most computers are used for browsing or email without having or needing a Blu-ray disk nor streaming at high megabit rates. Is this a chip designed for use in a $50 set-top box or a $100 Blu-ray player? Will this slow down my number-crunching? Do I need this secret code machine working on my private files? How do I turn off this crypto DRM cypher decoder mystery secret withholder code? Should I worry?
  • Hrel - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - link

    When are laptops based on Sandy Bridge going on sale?

    obviously with GTX530 or better GPU's and 1080p screens with contrast over 500:1. (that's a given)

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