Affordable HDTV and Datacasting on the Desktop?

Last week, 14 companies announced that they have joined to create the PC DTV Promoters Group, for "the purpose of marketing and accelerating adoption of digital broadcast receivers and DTV technology for the PC." Members of the group say it was formed to help raise awareness of the PC as the "ideal platform" for receiving Enhanced Digital Television programming, HDTV, and high-bandwidth Datacasting services.

PC DTV Promoters Group members include: ATI Technologies, Broadlogic Network Technologies, Conexant Systems, Decisionmark, Hauppauge Digital, iBlast Networks, Intel, InterVideo, Pinnacle Systems, Microsoft, Ravisent Technologies, Santa Barbara Software, SCM Microsystems, and Wavexpress. Each company offers technology or services intended to enable PC users to receive digitally broadcast signals from terrestrial stations, cable services, or satellite providers. Products include DTV receiver cards, HDTV software decoders, Enhanced TV viewers, antenna selection guides, OpenCable boxes, and data broadcasting services.

Intel's Pat Gelsinger explained his company's involvement by stating that "PC DTV enables a completely new experience and delivery channel for the PC user. The PC DTV Promoters Group fills a critical role by helping consumers and broadcasters understand how to access this technology and take full advantage of the DTV transformation. We're pleased to be founding members of this important effort." Decisionmark's Jack Perry adds that "there are 149 digital television stations across the country today, covering 64% of US households, according to our reports. Digital television receivers, however, remain cost-prohibitive for most consumers. The PC DTV Promoters Group will help PC users within the digitally covered areas by making affordable and compelling digital reception a reality."

According to Frank Wilde of Ravisent, "the next generation of high-bandwidth connectivity to the home is going to bring digital television and the PC market much closer. The PC DTV Group is working to raise the awareness of the PC-HDTV convergence in the marketplace." The group claims that for PC users in a DTV coverage area, Enhanced DTV, HDTV, and Datacasting will be available using a low-cost PC DTV receiver card and a TV antenna. For readers wishing to see if they can receive a DTV signal, actual digital TV coverage in the US can be tracked in real time through the website.

The group describes Datacasting, which it expects will be available in select areas next year, as a service that uses the high-speed DTV broadcast signal to deliver large data files such as music, video, subscription services, and software over the air rather than by modem or DSL connection: "In the US, DTV terrestrial broadcast stations send digital information (data) at a rate of 19.4 megabits per second (Mbps). A standard digital television program requires a broadcast rate of 4–5Mbps. For each second of television broadcast up to 15 megabits of non-television information can be delivered directly to a PC with a PC DTV receiver card, software, and an antenna able to receive the DTV station. This is about 10 times the speed of a normal DSL connection. The point-to-multipoint broadcast architecture improves Internet efficiency by eliminating bottlenecks created when hundreds of users simultaneously attempt to download large files."

Enhanced DTV is described as sending information related to the program via data files along with the DTV video and audio signal, the viewer then being able to choose to turn off the information or access it through an interactive menu-driven interface. The group says that there are three methods for associating data with a program: The simplest method sends a Web address along with the program and requires an Internet connection; the Enhanced DTV decoder reads the address, then downloads the data files from the website. The second method takes advantage of high-speed DTV delivery to send 256K–1.5Mbps of data along with the DTV program, the data temporarily stored by the receiver and available for viewing during the program—no Internet connection required. The third method sends data along with the video signal, but the data are stored on the user's hard drive for later access.

According to the PC DTV Promoters Group, all three methods are defined by the Advanced Television Video Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) specification. "Simple, Web-based Enhanced TV can be accessed by high-end set-top boxes; complex enhancements delivered with the video are available to users with ATVEF-enabled PC DTV receiver cards and software."