Intel Insider tech risks monopoly accusations

Intel's Sandy Bridge line of processors is impressing the tech community with its power, but a sneaky little feature designed to appease Hollywood has some concerned about Intel's intentions: Intel Insider.

The new technology, which ships as standard with Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs, is designed to offer a trusted computing platform for high-definition video streaming over the Internet - a sort of HDCP for TCP/IP, as it were.

Taking the Intel Insider technology at its face value, it seems like a win-win scenario for publishers and consumers: it provides a way of turning the humble desktop or laptop PC into a 'trusted' device in the same way as a Blu-ray player or HDMI-connected TV, meaning that video streamed over the Internet can be encrypted and piracy made significantly more challenging.

With such technology, studios are significantly more likely to offer streaming services for new-release feature films to PCs - and the fact that the Intel Insider security can be layered over existing Digital Rights Management (DRM) implementations means that Hollywood stays in control of the video the entire time.

Sadly, there's a hidden flaw in the plan - and it's one that the anti-monopoly commissions in the EU and the US are likely to pay close attention to: as the name suggests, Intel Insider is an Intel technology.

If a major video streaming service, such as Lovefilm or the US-based Hulu, were to implement Intel Insider technology on their movie streams - as a way of convincing Hollywood to release films sooner and in high definition without worrying about piracy - it would mean that only those who use Intel's very latest Sandy Bridge CPUs would be able to stream movies.

Not only would those using older Intel chips that don't support the technology be cut off from the service, but those on systems featuring CPUs from rival manufacturers such as AMD and low-power specialist VIA would also be excluded.

While Intel could resolve the monopoly issue by licensing its Intel Insider technology to rival chip firms under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, it still means that any video streaming service choosing to implement the technology is limiting its target audience to those running the very latest chips.

Clearly, Intel is in this for the long run and is unlikely to be signing up content producers until chips featuring Intel Insider technology hit critical mass in the marketplace - but it's starting to look like the technology, which Intel has repeatedly claimed is not DRM, might be a hard sell for the company to both consumers and rights holders.