DTV Invades the Desktop

Following the start of the United States' digital broadcasting system on November 1, both Panasonic Industrial Company (PIC) and Philips Semiconductors announced last week new all-format digital television (DTV) tuner/decoder cards. These cards will let computer users view DTV signals using their desktop PCs connected to a computer monitor or television set. As we reported last week, this could help foster the availability of $500 DTV tuners for PCs by early next year.

According to Panasonic, their PC-DTV tuner/decoder card, developed in collaboration with Compaq Computer, is a PCI-based, two-board system that enables computers to receive, decode, and display DTV signals (including HDTV) on the screen of a PC. The system includes a tuner board that receives signals in all Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC) formats as well as the current NTSC analog TV signals and a video decoder board that decodes and displays the signals.

Ash Chabra, group manager of the Electronic Components Group of Panasonic Industrial Company, says that "by supplying our personal computer OEMs with these boards, we expect to accelerate the development of high-definition and digital TV in this country. We can provide end-to-end DTV solutions for PCs, including individual DTV system components, from the RF tuner through the all-format MPEG-2 video decoder."

Panasonic will initially market this PC-DTV card system on an OEM basis to computer manufacturers, peripheral-board manufacturers, TV broadcasters, content-creation studios, and content developers. Samples will be available by the end of this year, with targeted volume production in early spring 1999. Panasonic also announced the immediate availability of the 8VSB TS output board (model TTM1A), which outputs an 8-bit parallel transport stream (TS) from the RF input of broadcast DTV signals. This board will greatly help computer manufacturers, DTV/set-top box manufacturers, and silicon developers accelerate their DTV product development.

With the hoped-for convergence of TV and personal computers, Philips Semiconductors' Coney board is also designed to bridge the gap, allowing users to receive DTV and NTSC broadcast signals via the PC. Combining a front-end TV tuner with desktop-video circuits, Philips' Coney board is now being used by Intel Corporation in the company's DTV broadcast trials. In conjunction with Intel's Pentium II processor and an accelerated graphics port, Philips claims that the reference design allows users to tune into DTV broadcasts and automatically download data and video.

According to Mike Richmond, business unit manager of Intel's Broadcast Products Division, "Intel believes that the Philips design will enable owners of high-end Intel Architecture-based PCs to economically add DTV functionality by using the Intel processor to decode the ATSC signal in software. PCs will play a significant role as a key platform for DTV. The Philips reference design gives PCs, OEMs, and after-market suppliers an early entry into the emerging DTV market, and it makes low-cost DTV on PCs a practical reality for consumers."