DVD-Quality Digital Video Manipulation Coming Soon to a PC Near You

Many pundits have said that the computer will never make it into the family room, where the TV reigns supreme. They say it's too complicated, and consumers don't really want interactivity or crashing operating systems. But all it will really take is one or two killer applications or technologies, and the consumer-electronics world will get flipped on its head.

Recordable-DVD technology, along with "DVD-quality" video editing, could be the ticket, especially if it becomes available for your PC at a reasonable price. That's the idea behind a new chip from C-Cube Microsystems, who last week announced the introduction of DVxplore, which they describe as "the world's first single-chip consumer MPEG-2 and DV (Digital Video) codec." So far, DVxplore has been endorsed by Microsoft, Matrox, Creative Labs, and Ulead.

According to C-Cube, DVxplore will allow consumers to use recordable DVD on a PC for personal content creation, and it will facilitate PC/TV and DVD-RAM applications. The company also claims that DVxplore will enable users to record hours of DVD-quality video from any unencrypted video source, such as TV, VCR, DV camcorder, or analog camcorder. In addition, it will allow editing and playback of DVD-quality (MPEG-2) video on standard PCs, which can then be stored on DVD-R discs, Web sites, CD-R discs, or hard-disk drives.

Notice I said it will allow you to record from any unencrypted video source. The DVxplore chip will include Content Scrambling System (CSS) copy protection. CSS will prevent the chip from passing encrypted material from commercial DVDs or any other digital datastream whose content creator wishes to prevent digital copying. Of course, analog video signals will not be affected.

According to a company spokesperson, whatever your analog VCR can record, DVxplore will allow your computer to record as well. When it comes to digital TV (DTV), satellite, or cable systems, it is up to each broadcaster whether or not to include CSS, which will prevent digital duplication. However, the chip will allow the playback of any CSS-encrypted source, such as a DVD movie, on a computer screen or PC/TV device.

According to C-Cube, DVxplore will expand the scope of existing video applications while creating opportunities for entirely new applications and consumer devices. For example, DVxplore's time-shifting capability will enable PC users to record a TV program while simultaneously playing video from any point in the recording. VCR-type controls will allow users to rewind to the beginning of a program that's still being recorded and start playback instantly. TV shows can be recorded by simply clicking on the onscreen electronic-programming guide.

Carl Stork, general manager of PC Hardware Strategy at Microsoft, says that "the DVxplore chip, with support for MPEG encoding, is likely to deliver profound new capabilities in the way today's analog TV is handled on the PC. Rather than just displaying TV in a window, the PC platform will be able to dramatically enhance the TV-watching experience by helping consumers to personalize their TV viewing in a way that suits them."

Consumer-friendly technologies such as FireWire (IEEE 1394) will be supported, making it easy to store and re-edit digital home movies or possibly material from a digital set-top box. (Fifteen percent of the digital camcorders on the market have a FireWire connector.) According to Umesh Padval, president of C-Cube's Semiconductor Division, "Empowering consumers to easily record and manipulate high-quality video represents a significant breakthrough for the multimedia industry at large. By offering DVD-quality recording and playback at consumer price points, we are leveraging our expertise in digital video technology to enable a new genre of consumer video applications."

Consumer pricing is still to be determined, as the chip will be only one component of a PC video card. But once a consumer installs a DVD-RAM or other high-capacity storage device in his or her computer, the company promises that DVxplore will add less than the cost of a typical VCR ($299) to the system. (One hour of video consumes one gigabyte of storage space.) Products with the chip will likely hit the market around spring 1999. (For more information about DTV on the PC, see related story.)