Interview: Vice President of Alienware on Wireless HDMI and Console Competition

Mar
23

Interview: Vice President of Alienware on Wireless HDMI and Console Competition

Alienware is a company with a reputation among gamers. By producing computers that provide unparalleled gaming experiences and possess some of the most cutting-edge styling, Alienware has become known the world over as an elite PC gaming company. The company’s status was only further solidified in 2006 when computer giant Dell purchased Alienware.

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Alienware has been consistently known for their high-end hardware that is able to handle some of the most insanely demanding software. Arthur Lewis, Vice President and General Manager of Alienware, attributes that to the deep relationships that the company holds with the various developers that put out these very games.

“Alienware’s been around since 1997 and we have pretty deep relations in the game developer and vendor community,” Lewis said. “Today [at PAX East], we’re showcasing the launch of Guild Wars 2, which is a very anticipated game. Later this afternoon, we’ll have League of Legends. That’s the kind of thing that you see that drives the traffic [...] here at Alienware. Because we’ve been around for such a long time and because we have those deep relations with the game developers and gamers, it gives us unique insight as to what people are looking for from a gaming perspective.”

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In addition to the numerous relationships that exist between Alienware and developers, Lewis stays strong in the notion that the team at Alienware is full of top-notch individuals that know the product like nobody else. “We have a really good team,” Lewis said. “We have very little attrition [...] at Alienware. The people that are planning our products have been planning our products for the past ten years. The leader of the group was actually our third employee at the company. I think having a lot of consistency in the type of person who really understands what Alienware is about and understands who are customer is and what they’re looking for, they can cut through a lot of the noise that you see on the marketplace on whether something is a real complaint or it’s something that’s not a real complaint and really focus on what matters.”

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While the game developers and the people are strong reasons why Alienware is in elite company, Lewis insists that some of the best ideas come from the gaming community themselves. “We have a lot of tentacles into our customer base where we solicit information and we take that information and we try to make the next generation a little bit better. Just one example: one of the benefits of being acquired by Dell is being able to leverage their economy to scale. A lot of the smaller boutique guys can’t build their own ground-up platform. They basically buy a platform and put a different cover and call it their own. Any number of guys are selling the same box.”

“We actually design our products from the ground-up and we pay attention to the design and the aesthetics as well as the components that go into the system,” Lewis said. “So here, when we launched the M11x, they loved that it came in the soft-touch black, but pretty much seven out of ten customers, especially the knowledgeable ones said ‘hey, you guys did soft-touch on the outside, why do you have plastic on the palm rests? We’d love to see soft-touch on the palm rests.’ So guess what. Next generation M11x is going to have soft-touch on the palm rests. It’s that kind of level of detail that we kind of take from out customers. A lot of times, we say ‘shit, we should’ve known that!’ and our customers are there to keep you honest, because if you mess up, they will let you know, and they’re going to be hardcore about the way they let you know.”

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During our discussion, Lewis seemed genuinely impressed at how far the company has come, especially when asked about Alienware’s latest innovation: the wireless HDMI. “If you think back to when we were just starting out as a desktop company and introducing the first gaming notebook, and sort of the innovations that have come over time, one of the coolest things that we’ve done in a long time, and something I’m very excited about, we launched it at CES and we’re showcasing it here, is the wireless HDMI technology that we have,” Lewis said.

“We have a system where you’re able to, on a 17 inch notebook, show your content in high definition 1080p, zero latency, from the notebook up on to a TV,” said Lewis. “You can take a two-foot experience and instantaneously convert it into a ten-foot experience. If your IO is mouse and keyboard because you’re playing an MMO and you then say ‘I want to relax and play a first person shooter and I want to go onto my sofa,’ take the same device and just hook up a wireless controller to it and you’ve [expanded that experience]. Like I said, it’s completely [amazing quality], rates in the 60 GHz spectrum, and it’s one of those things where it’s probably not revolutionary, but it’s certainly evolutionary and it takes gaming to a whole different level.”

Lewis Talks About Competing with Consoles:

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When the topic of consoles starting to catch up to the advanced technology that PCs use to be able to exclusively provide to consumers was brought up, Lewis did not seem concerned about the competition. “I don’t really look at it as ‘PC vs. Console,’ I look at it as a usage model,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, we have a saying that people don’t play devices, they play the games. So if I’m in a two-foot experience, I’m using a traditional computer. In a ten-foot experience, I’m usually playing on a console and it’s not necessarily because I prefer the functionality or the performance of the PC vs. the console. It really has more to do with how comfortable I am playing the game and how I want to interact with the game. From our perspective, we see the PC is obviously a more powerful platform. It’s the open-architecture nature of the PC and the ability to use it in multiple usage models. [...] We have our 11″ notebook that’s powering a 1080p monitor. Look at the graphics that you have on this screen that are being powered by this 11.6″ notebook. [...] That’s an 11.6″ notebook that has a 4i7 processor and a 35 watt GPU with a solid state hard drive that enables you to output 1080p and get 60, 70, 80 frames per second even at high settings.”

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Lewis was adamant that the PC still provides a vastly different experience that many are looking for to this day. “You think about usage models, right?” Lewis started. “Well this is now a notebook that I can use for school, I can use it for work, I can sit and home and connect it to my 24″ monitor at my desk, I can use it in a two-foot experience, but when I want to relax on the sofa and play Call of Duty with my son, I can just hook two controllers to it and we’re sitting there and playing off of the PC. I’m not locked into Xbox Live, I don’t have to pay $60 for a Gold account, I can go into a bunch of different games. That world is your oyster when you think about the PC and the internet and what it has to offer as opposed to having somebody tell you ‘here’s your limited menu and what you can choose from.’ With a PC, you have the internet at your disposal.”

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Alienware's unique exteriors are on full-display in their desktop line

Lewis claims the fact that they can effectively set priorities and goals allows them to be so successful when building a gaming machine. “For us, because we have limited resources, it’s really a question of prioritizing and identifying the opportunities, then saying ‘what are the three big [things] we want to go after?’” Lewis said. “I think the mistake that a lot of people in the industry make is that they’ve got twenty things that they want to go focus on and they can’t [place] which ones are going to be the top three, so they just kind of go after all twenty and they do all of them pretty poorly. From our perspective, we say ‘what are the three or five things we want to go after?’ and we say that’s the bet we made and we’re going to assign all of our resources and go after it. Wireless HDMI has been something that’s been on the top of [my list] for the past two years. [...] We have very deep relations [...] in the technology field, so we know what a lot of vendors are doing out there. [...] We’re in a position to be able to cherry pick and decide what we want to go work on and then go drive the hell out of it.”

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The insanely powerful, 3D enabled M17x

There is no doubt that Alienware provides some very impressive hardware that obviously appeals to gamers interested in getting high performance out of their PC. Lewis claims that this might only be the beginning of where the company is going in the short term. “I’ll leave you with a tease of sorts,” Lewis said smiling. “In very short order, I think you’re going to see one of the most exciting lineups that we’ve had in a very long time. As I said, we focus not just on PC hardware, we focus on usage models and I think we’ve done a really good job on taking a look at the usage models we want to go after and we’re very excited about some of the things we’ve got coming up.”

About Brian Shea

Brian Shea is VGW's Editor-in-Chief and one of the founding members of the site. In addition to leading the team at VideoGameWriters.com, he contributes such regular features as “Shea’s Say,” "Eleven Things," "Commercials from the Past" and “Essential Gaming." Follow Brian on Twitter

4 Comments

  • Wtf
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 15:17 pm

    Elite ?

    It’s for wannabes buying material that’s twice cheaper

    Reply
  • Anonymous
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    I saw a demo of the WirelessHD technology at the ISSCC this year and was really impressed with the quality of the wireless video link. ZERO latency between the laptop and HDTV for REAL! It’s certainly revolutionary.

    Reply

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