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What's the Viiv?
Viiv, that's pronounced 'vive', is Intel's latest technology push aiming to sit right next to your telly. Viiv isn't a product in itself but a grouping of several products, some Intel and some not to produce an entertainment PC that is easy to use. That's the theory, anyway.

Viiv systems can come in many different guises both internally and externally. Processors are of course Intel powered with Pentium D (dual core), Extreme Edition and the new Core Duo processors all being Viiv 'compliant'. The Core Duo processor was first debuted on the new Intel Macs and is the one you really want in your Viiv.

The Pentium D processors produce a lot of heat and that becomes a big issue when you want the system to have diminutive physical characteristics. As the Core Duo was original designed for notebooks, it features better thermal features that aid it when placed in a small computer. The ultimate result is that you need fewer fans to cool the system and fewer fans mean less noise. The last thing you want is to hear the drone of a computer when watching a film. Elonex confirmed this is the primary reason why they have gone with the Core Duo processors in their Viiv systems.

Windows Media Center edition is another important aspect of Viiv and several features have been modified within it to allow for an almost instant start-up and shutdown of a Viiv system. Content in the form of films, TV shows and music will be downloadable, on demand, over the Internet from providers such as Sky and Napster ready for you to watch. One impressive feature is that you can share you Viiv system throughout the house with different televisions grabbing it's sound and picture feed. All Viiv computers will support HDTVs and have eight channel surround sound.

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Designs for Viiv computers vary, even at this early stage. Companies such as HP, Dell and Packard Bell have gone with fair conservative designs, with HP putting in a rather tasteless offering.

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I was looking forward to looking at Sony's Viiv system but was somewhat disappointed with their offering. It's simply too large and too box-like. The problem isn't helped by the lack of digital display on the front. It should be noted that the front cover which covers two thirds of the front face has a veneer of blushed aluminium. Smaller integrators such as Evesham, Elonex and Hi-Grade have gone for more interesting designs. Evesham and Elonex have produced smart looking boxes, with the Evesham unit looking particularly good with an all aluminium front panel.

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The Hi-Grade unit (above right) was one of the smallest units on view and although clad in black plastic was the most interesting device thus far. It doesn't pack as many features as the full size set-top units but still has all the connections you need to power a HDTV. We also managed to get a close up on the innards and the connections present.

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Having wired networking, modem, surround sound, a single television and a digital DVI connector the small Hi-Grade unit was a very nice piece of kit. What it lacked in features it made up for with its diminutive form. Remember, what Intel want is a move to stylish, lifestyle computing not the grey boxes of the past sitting underneath your telly. The Hi-Grade unit was heading our list until we saw an Elonex LCD television.

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As a television it looks stunning. Finished in blushed aluminium all round, the sleek design lines are close to perfect. What's even more interesting is that this LCD television, which comes in 32" and 40" offerings, has a Viiv system built into it. We've been told it's based on the Intel Core Duo processor, has three TV tuners, with one of those being a backup in case the Viiv system fails to work. It also features a side mounted slot for a removable hard drive so you can transfer films that you have downloaded through services similar to the one in the picture to other machines. Elonex inform us that they are also modifying that slot so you can plug an iPod into it as well. Sadly you can't get away without having a Sky set-top box as at present they don't allow the hardware to be implemented by third party manufacturers such as Elonex. However Elonex do tell us that you can connect to other satellite systems as there is a slot for an access card. The 40" unit (pictured) will cost around 2900.

So Viiv, what's it all about? If I was exceptionally harsh person, and I am there's very little new here. In terms of hardware, most of the items in a Viiv computer you can buy in the shops right now. That isn't to say what Intel have done is a bad thing. Viiv is a lot like Centrino in that it's a collection of products coming together to form a 'standard'. For the person in the street who wants a computer that will be a personal video recorder, provide films on demand and be a computer Viiv is perfect. Building your own system that hosts most of the Viiv functionality has been possible for some time, but the level of integration between software and hardware is so high in Viiv the differential in cost becomes negligible. Viiv will undoubtedly fast forward the acceptance of having a full-on computer system underneath your television.

As designs progress through the course of 2006 and beyond we'll start to see designs that shy away from the HP and Packard Bell onto the more stylish Elonex and Evesham units. Prices are yet to be decided by most manufacturers but expect them to cost depending on specification, slightly more than your average PC. Then again you can do a lot more with a Viiv system than you can with the box currently under your desk.
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