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What is Intel’s graphic “Odyssey”?

We asked, Intel answered

I sat there refreshing Twitter, waiting for the promised announcement to land on the @IntelGraphics feed, trying to remember if I'd ever waited for a Twitter-based NDA before. Ah, there it was, an announcement about "The Odyssey." Intel used a bunch of words that sort of made sense, but there was no clear or cohesive understanding of what, exactly, this Odyssey thing was or why it existed. We just knew that it had something to do with Intel's bold and risky discrete graphics endeavor. Along with the announcement, you could sign up for events at locations across the globe, but again, there were no further pertinent details. We reached out to Intel for some answers, and we ended up on the phone with Chris Hook, Intel's director for Visual Technologies Marketing.

As vague as this informationless graphic

Any update on those discrete graphics?

Hook confirmed some of what we already knew about Intel's discrete graphics. The company is planning a whole stack, from its existing integrated graphics all the way up to the highest end. Intel plans to duke it out with Nvidia and AMD on gaming, but also has an eye on the data center, and on content creation, and expects to ably serve graphics capabilities to its one-billion-strong install base.

The blue wave of Intel graphics will begin crashing on our proverbial shores starting in 2020. For consumers, that feels like a long ways off; but for the people inside Intel working on the launch(es), it must feel like a downright claustrophobic amount of time. 

There is so much we don't know about Intel's planned hardware, including simple blocking and tackling like whether it will have ranks of AIB partners like AMD and Nvidia do, or if it will make its own cards, or both. Hook admitted that they (meaning the Intel discrete graphics evangelists) need to start revealing more of those sorts of details. And they will, soon. For now, the job is generating buzz, building up expectations, and showing activity of some kind. That's where the Odyssey comes into play.

What is the Odyssey, exactly?

Simply and crassly put, the Odyssey an effort by Intel to simultaneously goose potential customer engagement, engender goodwill with the enthusiast community, and conduct granular and grassroots market research. "The Odyssey" is just a fancy name for a forum-type program that includes communications like newsletters and social media, with a live event component. 

"The Odyssey is a whole bunch of things," said Hook. "It's a beta program, it's a two-way conversation, it's a listening opportunity, and the net result I'm hoping for is that once we start to launch more visual computing platforms—discrete graphics, things like that—that the community is going to be excited because they'd had a chance to provide that input and are getting products and technologies that they're really excited about."

Appropriately enough, the Odyssey's origin story has grassroots, uh, roots. "The engineering teams at Intel really want to do the right things in terms of bringing a better visual experience to market, whether that's from the perspective of having drivers on day one [...] or having better gaming controls in a control panel," Hook said. "But there wasn't that connection between engineering teams and the community. That was an opportunity for us."

So they began experimenting. After a Reddit AMA with some of the Intel Graphics folks proved successful from a marketing perspective, Hook said "We took that on tour inside the company, and we went door to door with it." He noted that they received "great feedback" internally, as well as key insights they hadn't gleaned before. Then they decided to formalize the whole thing, and the Odyssey was born. 

The live events

One of the most confusing bits about the original announcement was a page where you were supposed to sign up for live events at geographic locations around the world. But there were no dates, and no details. Turns out, this is a long play. Intel wants the Odyssey to have a strong community meetup bent, but it needs to tinker with the format. 

The first pilot meetup will be March 20 at GDC in San Francisco. "The people who joined the Odyssey in the Bay area will be invited to that and will be allowed to attend on a first-come, first-served basis," Hook said. Intel people like Raja Koduri will be there, and there will be technology demos. "But really, we're using it as a platform to meet the community, and also to kick off a beta program for the new control center that we're rolling out in the first half of 2019," Hook added.

The idea is to have a little fun while offering real opportunities for Intel to engage with enthusiasts. "We're not going to put people through a two-hour presentation," Hook assured us. "There will be a short, quick, 25-minute presentation. We're going to formally announce the new control panel [and] the beta program." He said there will be "special guests" from the gaming community, as well as discussions about issues in gaming that graphics and visual computing platforms can allegedly solve. To be clear: It's a meetup, not a press event.

Depending on how it goes, and the feedback from attendees, Intel will adjust its approach to future events—the ones that you can sign up for but that don't exist yet. And the company is trying to gauge interest in those events with that informationless signup page, hoping to understand what sort of numbers to expect. Perhaps only a few hundred people will show up to São Paulo, but maybe they could nab 10,000 for Beijing. 

Who is the audience?

Technically, this is all open to the public, but Intel hopes to attract a certain type of "public." They're targeting true enthusiasts, the ones who deeply care about these things and have some knowledge about them. For example, Hook said they reached out specifically to enthusiast PC media outlets like The Tech Report rather than a more general audience. (Wait, does that make us pawns? Dangit!) The @IntelGraphics Twitter handle is even strategic, designed to separate all Intel users (which, again, is around a billion people according to Hook) from the main @Intel handle to a more specific category. 

Thus, although technically the Odyssey and the associated events are open to the public, Intel's strategy it to lure in hardcore enthusiasts rather than the unwashed masses. The events are tuned that way, too; the "celebrities," for example, are Intel engineers, not movie stars.