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Intel employees exclusively testing mystery set-top box

Intel OfficesMore than 2,000 Intel employees are exclusively testing the company’s upcoming set top box and streaming service as part of what’s being called the “Black Box Project.”

The trial started in March with employees based in California, Arizona and Oregon, and the current 2,000-strong testing contingent may grow further to include more of the company’s employees who reside in different parts of the U.S. Those who are using it now are doing so under veritable lockdown, having signed non-disclosure agreements mandating that they only use the box and service in their own homes with their families. If there is a mobile app component to the product or service, there has been no indication suggesting that so far.

The mystery black box being tested has been confirmed as not being the final design of the hardware, while the software and user interface are largely based on what will ultimately be in the final product. The content being used for the trial has also been kept secret, and will not reflect what will be available when the product and service eventually launch.

Intel has hinted in the past that it was looking to change the way consumers access and navigate the content they’re looking for, but has been vague on what that entails or how it differs from what is available in the market now.

What is known is that the company wants to combine live TV, on-demand streaming and other content into one platform. The trial is likely working out the performance and how the general interface works, from navigation, selection, payment, processing and other features. Using crowdsourcing techniques, the feedback is collected and changes are made to reflect what testers have reported.

There will be a customer care element called “Audience Care,”  ostensibly to aid consumers with any issues or questions they might have, though it’s not entirely clear what further role this part of the product’s support might have otherwise.

What’s also foggy is the level of participation from content providers. Intel is prepping for a launch this year, but there has been little in the way of content agreements with studios or distributors. Cable TV operators have been quietly hostile to Intel’s plans (as well as other over-the-top entities), so it will be interesting to see how the live TV part of this new mystery box and service will play out when the time comes.