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AMD’s partners are expected to announce the first PCs based on the AMD Live! entertainment platform on Tuesday, the day that AMD will begin to make available a number of specialized, free applications to improve the multimedia experience on Live! PCs.

Initially, Live! PCs will be not much more than existing computers designed around the Athlon64 X2 microprocessors that Advanced Micro Devices manufactures. Over time, however, OEMs including Acer, Alienware, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Gateway, HP, Sahara, and Tsinghua Tongfang will preload the five new AMD Live! Entertainment Suite applications, which AMD plans to add to over time to build out the new Live! platform.

The new Live! Entertainment Suite will rebrand existing third-party applications, tie them into the AMD brand name, and offer them to consumers for free. AMD is also considering whether to capitalize on any brand equity the new applications earn by pushing consumers toward a future Live!-branded portal, AMD executives said.

Both AMD and its rival, Intel, began to embrace the concept of the PC as a consumer device in 2004. In 2005, Intel announced its consumer Viiv brand. While AMD waited until this past January to unveil its AMD Live! strategy, the company’s only announcement to date has been the hardware specifications underpinning Live!. But what Viiv and Live! are, and what they will mean for consumers, is just now becoming clear.

Like Apple, TiVo, or a host of other consumer-electronics manufacturers, AMD and Intel hope its chips will form the foundations of the home entertainment device or media server, upon which digital photos, music, and video will reside.

The difference between the two companies, however, lies in the attitudes towards digital content: Intel’s Viiv program has tied itself to premium content, including first-run movies that are only available from online video rental agencies. AMD, on the other hand, has initially designed Live! with user-owned, DRM-free content in mind.

“One of the differentiators from our competitor is that we’re not focused on premium content,” said Teresa de Onis, AMD’s desktop brand manager. “[A user’s] music photos, their recorded TV shows — all sorts of those types of content we want to distribute throughout the home.”

While a number of companies have set out to allow user-owned media to be played on multiple devices around the house, no one company has tried to navigate through the minefields of incompatible digital-rights-management schemes. AMD will also avoid this, for the time being. “We’re not solving any DRM issues yet in our first iteration of AMD Live!,” de Onis said. “We’re focused on Windows Media Center applications.”

Live! PCs must be powered by AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core machines running at 4200+ speeds or faster, and must enable Cool ‘n’ Quiet, the low-power desktop mode that is designed to lower the ambient fan noise when the highest performance isn’t required. The PCs must also have Microsoft’s “away mode” enabled, which will allow a user to “boot” to the desktop within two seconds from standby or hibernate mode. Finally, all Live! PCs must ship with Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition software installed.

Initially, users will have to download the five applications themselves from the AMD Live! web site. OEMs will begin to preload the applications in time for the holiday sales season, or about October, de Onis said. Over time, the website will evolve into a repository of tips and tools to help consumers build out their entertainment world, according to the company.

Initially, the five Live! applications will include:

  • Live On Demand, a branded version of Orb Networks’ on-demand video application. Using the software, Live users will be able to stream video to other PCs, PDAs, and cellular phones, and control recordings remotely.

  • Live! Compress, a compression application designed to reduce the size of recorded TV shows without sacrificing quality. The application can compress the size of recorded television files down to a tenth of their original size, de Onis said.

  • Live! Network Magic, a rebranded application from Pure Networks, which allows a user to monitor and control a wireless network. For example, when her parents tried to connect to her Wi-Fi network, the application sounded an alert, and asked her whether to allow the other laptop access, de Onis said. After she gave her permission, the software then automatically set permissions for the other machine, she said. The application runs on AMD hardware, but does not require other clients to run AMD-based PCs.

  • Live! LogMeIn, a rebranded version of the LogMeIn application, which allows users to remotely access their PCs.

  • Live! Media Vault, a service supplied by StreamLoad, which automatically backs up user’s files to an online storage space. Initially, AMD will provide up to 25 Gbytes of storage space for free, and then charge users for more capacity.

According to AMD’s de Onis, the service is superior to Apple’s .Mac service, which also offers online storage, as the Live! backups are performed automatically, by default.

AMD also announced a partnership with ST Microelectronics, to develop a Live!-enabled reference design for a set-top box, that will use the PC to overlay additional information to enhance TV broadcasts. A typical application will be NASCAR’s TrackPass, which allows users to monitor the behind-the-scenes activity during a NASCAR stock-car race. That design will be on display at the Computex show in Taiwan in June, de Onis said. AMD does not plan any Live! events to enhance the World Cup soccer tournament, which begins next month, she said.