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Intel introduces dual digital camera for PC photographers

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After dipping its toe into the water with a branded Internet appliance, Intel Corp. is making another foray into the pool of businesses that complement its computer chip-making with a new dual-purpose digital camera.

The Intel Pocket PC Camera, which begins selling Tuesday, allows consumers to take Internet-ready photos and record short video clips at or away from the personal computer -- even set up a "spy cam'' to take pictures and e-mail them automatically to a given address.

"The great thing about this camera is it's really focused on people who want to share their life's story over the Internet,'' said Dwayne Canfield, product line manager at Intel's Connect Products Division in Hillsboro, Ore. "You can have it hooked up to your computer or you can disconnect the cord and take it with you.''

Digital cameras eliminate the need for silver halide film that has to be chemically processed, instead capturing images on chips with tiny square sensors called pixels.

The $149 battery-operated product comes with 8 megabytes of flash memory, capable of taking 128 pictures or two minutes of video in the highest quality mode, which is 640 by 480 pixels.

By comparison, megapixel digital cameras, retailing for $300 and higher feature resolution of 1,028 by 960 pixels, take pictures almost as perfect as those made by traditional cameras on film. Unlike these high-end cameras, the Intel device does not allow the picture-taker to immediately review images on an imbedded LCD screen.

"People should understand you're not going to get the highest-quality print from this (Intel) camera,'' said analyst Michelle Lampmann at InfoTrends Research Group in Boston. "But this device enables affordable digital image capture -- both still and video -- that can be detached from the PC, and that makes it much more useful and fun.''

Amid indications that U.S. PC sales are slowing, Intel has been moving aggressively to expand beyond its core semiconductor lines.

It formed the Connect Products Division with the mission of producing Intel-brand consumer product, began selling an Internet appliance -- a countertop device that allows access to e-mail, organizer and the Internet -- to telephone companies for resale to consumers and plans to market other consumer gadgets later this year.

Intel's Pocket PC is an extension of the fast-growing PC camera business, which InfoTrends estimates is worth about $338 million this year. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has three other PC cameras retailing between $49 and $99.

Intel has been locked in a battle with Logitech for dominance in the market, with each holding about a 30 percent share. Logitech currently does not have a high-end dual purpose camera, although several others, including Singapore-based Creative Labs Inc. and Agfa-Gevaert Inc. of Teterboro, N.J., already are marketing dual-purpose stationary/on-the-go models.

The Intel Pocket PC Camera includes easy-to-use software that allows people to download images to a computer and tinker with them to adjust their quality or crop images before e-mailing them or posting them to personal Web pages.

The point-and-shoot functionality, price and size (it weighs 8 ounces with four AAA batteries and can be shoved into most pockets) attracted many admirers during several test outings.

Analysts also note the continuing rollout of high-speed Internet access will lead to more videoconferencing among businesses, friends and families. Online meetings are possible now, but images moving through dial-up connections often are jerky and grainy.

Research firm Jupiter Communications estimates more than 4.5 million people in the United States will have high-speed Internet access by year's end.

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