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PC World

Coming Attraction: HDTV on your PC

October 26, 1999
Web posted at: 2:24 p.m. EDT (1824 GMT)

by David Essex

(IDG) -- Soon you'll be able to get high-definition television without spending thousands of dollars. How? Thanks to new PC chip technology and software.

All you'll need is an HDTV-capable graphics card and high-resolution monitor, according to companies working to deliver products next year.

Two of the companies, Ravisent Technologies and Conexant Systems, announced a partnership on Monday to develop HDTV solutions. Ravisent's CineMaster HDTV software will provide MPEG-2 decoding and displaying of HDTV signals. Conexant's Fusion 878A chip will convert incoming video to streaming format and send it along the system's PCI bus.

You'll need at least a 500-MHz Pentium III system and one of the more powerful graphics accelerator boards to run these, however. Ravisent has exhibited CineMaster HDTV running with an ATI Technologies Rage 128 card, and will soon announce compatibility with other cards, company officials say. The company predicts PC vendors will configure entire systems with the necessary boards, monitors, and Windows software, and individually sold graphics cards will come bundled with the software.

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HDTV as it is now broadcast by major networks offers television displays at resolutions of either 1280 by 720 pixels or 1920 by 1080 pixels. To get the best full-screen display, you need a pricey PC monitor that can handle both the higher resolutions and 16-by-9 aspect ratio (number of horizontal vs. vertical pixels) of HDTV. Regular PC monitors (especially 20-inch and larger models) still provide good display of HDTV images, but the screen will appear in a narrower "letterbox" format, says Mike Cristofalo, Ravisent's product marketing manager for HDTV.

HDTV is available only over broadcast TV. Cable operators are still working out how to split up HDTV signals over their channel lineups within the framework of "must carry" rules set by the Federal Communications Commission. "The cable operators have not made a final commitment," Cristofalo says, but "they've said they will."

Hardware for HDTV

Video-card makers such as ATI Technologies, Matrox Graphics, and 3dfx Interactive, which now sell analog TV cards, are likely to offer HDTV, according to several sources.

Another big card vendor, Hauppauge Computer Works, this week announced an analog-and-digital card called WinTV-D that runs at lower-resolution, non-HDTV digital speeds (see related link at right) using the new Conexant chip. Hauppauge plans an HDTV version called WinTV-HD, says company president Ken Aupperle, and is investigating the Ravisent/Conexant solution.

"WinTV-HD will probably be $100 to $200 more," Aupperle predicts.

Hardware makers will have to decide whether to burden the PC's CPU with HDTV decoding software or offload that function to a dedicated chip. The software approach will limit HDTV availability to only the most powerful PCs, Aupperle says.

But Conexant marketing director Greg Fischer predicts PC vendors will prefer the software method because it shaves $75 off their costs. "It will eventually enable a $99 HDTV to play on PCs," he says.

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