TeVCA Announces World's First All-Format DTV Cards; Intel Tries Ravisent Software

Astute observers have long predicted that the computer industry would beat consumer-electronics manufacturers to the finish line in the race for affordable high-definition television. That prediction could prove correct, if a recent press release from Austin,Texas- based TeVCA Technologies is to be trusted.

In late July, TeVCA announced an Advanced Television Standards Committee digital television tuner card for personal computers. The card, which fits into any unoccupied PCI slot, can receive and display all 18 modes of ATSC DTV signal, including 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080p. The various formats are output simultaneously as NTSC 525i ("legacy" video), S-video, Digital FireWire, and 480p in 16:9 aspect ratio. This means a computer fitted with TeVCA's card could serve as the heart of an extensive information and entertainment system, feeding properly formatted signals to a projection television, a high-resolution monitor, and FireWire-enabled digital video equipment—all at once. The card also serves as an adapter and upconverter for such legacy-video devices as VHS tape machines.

The card's default display format is 480p, which can be sized as a window on "any size desktop setting and typical monitor resolution: VGA, SVGA . . . or 1280x1024 or maybe 1600x1200." The 16:9 window can be configured to fill the top, center, or bottom of the screen, with an Internet browser filling out the rest: Voilà! Instant interactive TV.

A TeVCA-equipped computer with a high-speed processor—say, a 500MHz Pentium—mated with a quality monitor would cost thousands less than any comparable product from the CE industry. The least expensive hi-def TVs still cost more than $5000. The only obstacle preventing the computer industry from completely overtaking this part of the market is the lack of affordable monitors big enough to work as displays in home-theater settings. Most home-theater fans consider 32-inch-diagonal sets to be the smallest acceptable size for viewing at any distance.

TeVCA says its ATSC card will be available soon for $995, list price. A Macintosh version might be available later. The card will ship in quantity by September 1.

Intel, meanwhile, has abandoned its plan to use Hitachi-developed decoding software for all-formats DTV conversion. The chip-making giant has instead adopted software from a number of companies, including Ravisent Technologies Inc. of Malvern, Pennsylvania. The change will cause an unexpected delay in getting Intel's DTV products to market, according to Junko Yoshida of Electronic Engineering Times.

The delay won't have much effect on the consumer electronics industry, Yoshida reports, but could cause problems for computer makers who were hoping to have Intel-powered software-driven DTV computers on the market this winter. One problem Intel engineers couldn't get around was the fact that the decoding software they were working with was so processor-intensive it left no room for the interactive features presumed necessary in the developing "infotainment" appliance market. Broadcast-ready DTV computers likely won't appear until the middle of next year. TeVCA is already working on a card with NTSC tuning capability, which it expects to debut in December.