Your TV is spying on you

There is an absolutely awful movie with the title, “I know what you did last summer.” Well now that kind of “know all” function may about to be installed on your TV. Your TV set will know where you went and when you were there. For some people, that may not be a good thing. For others, it opens a whole new world of features and functions.

Intel, the company most responsible for today’s PC technology, recently launched a new system on a chip (SoC) for the next generation of television sets, set-top boxes and DVD players. Moving far beyond the traditional functions of sound and video or even Internet capability, this chip can "learn." These TV sets will be equipped with tentacles that can tap into your past activities, what you did and where you did it.

The SoC is based on Intel’s Atom CE4100 and was highlighted in a demonstration last month by Intel CTO, Justin Rattner, at the Intel Developer Forum. One of Intel’s goals for the platform is to enable your TV set to become a hub of social networking and interactivity. To enable this functionality, Intel has built into the chip sophisticated, connectivity and learning technology.

While targeted at set-top and TV set applications, it also supports Internet and broadcast applications on one piece of silicon. It has the processing power and audio/video components necessary to run rich media applications such as 3D graphics and Adobe Flash 10.

Key features include:

• A 1.2GHz processor;

• Hardware decoding for up to two 1080p video streams with advanced 3D graphics and audio;

• Support for Adobe Flash Player 10 to optimize the playback of graphics and H.264 video;

• Hardware decoding for MPEG-4 video that is ready for DivX Home Theater 3.0 certification;

• Lower power consumption and a smaller footprint;

• Intel’s Precision View Technology, which is a display processing engine that supports HD imagery; and

• Intel’s Media Play Technology for seamless audio and video.

Rattner commented, “'TV is out of the box and off the wall. TV will remain at the center of our lives, and you will be able to watch what you want where you want. We are talking about more than one TV-capable device for every man and woman on the planet. People are going to feel connected to the screen in ways they haven't in the past.”

OMG, that almost sounds ominous. I’m not sure I want to be connected to any screen — ever! Once that kind of information is in a chip, anyone has access to it. Can you say George Orwell and 1984?

Continuing his demonstration, Rattner first played back a standard video, not of itself spectacular. But then he paused the video on the television. He then turned on another television set and its menu immediately offered him the ability to continue his viewing from the point he turned off the previous set. In other words, the second TV knew what he was doing on the first TV.

It gets even better, or more scary depending on your viewpoint.

Prior to the demonstration, Rattner had been carrying with him a mobile Internet device (MID). The MID communicates wirelessly with the TV’s SoC. With the MID in your pocket or purse, it keeps track of where you’ve been, even to the point of what stores you’ve visited and the times you were there.

In the demonstration, based on information received from the MID, the television set learned that Rattner had recently visited a music instrument store. So when he accessed the TV, it offered him a menu of programming choices based on guitarists. Accompanying the options and programs was a matching guitar store advertisement along the bottom of the screen.

He concluded with a live 3D demonstration. Rattner was on the stage inside the convention center and Howard Postler, the COO of 3ality, was located outside the hall. The Atom SoC displayed Postler in live 3D imagery, and the two carried on a live video conference — all in 3D.

Intel is also working in conjunction with Apple to develop a new interconnection standard. Called Light Peak, it will provide fiber-optic connectivity I/O on Intel chips. That’s huge. Initially, the technology will handle 10Gb/s, but it will scale up to 100Gb/s. Even at the slower speed, you could transfer a Blu-ray movie in 30 seconds.

The bottom line is: This is one powerful processor. I like the 3D TV capabilities. However, I think it's kinda creepy that my TV would know and keep track that I was at Wal-Mart last night. Some things are just meant to be kept private.