Chromatic's Mpact presages, to some extent, what Microsoft is expected to offer with its Talisman architecture due next year. Mpact features include:
--Full-screen, full-motion MPEG-2 playback;
--3D graphics using Microsoft's Direct 3D API;
--Very-high-quality Dolby AC-3 audio, wavetable synthesis, and 3D sound;
--ISDN and POTS videoconferencing.
"The idea is that people shouldn't have to buy separate chips to do graphics, audio, and fax-modem functions," said Dave Wilt, marketing manager for Chromatic. The chip, plus enabling hardware and software, is priced between $130 and $170. "That matches the performance of an accelerator card costing $300," he said.
"Because it is software based, you can download new functionality. Though there are limits to [how much hardware can be upgraded], it is very flexible," said Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources.
In terms of competing with Intel, which has designed its MMX multimedia functions into its Pentium and P6 processor families, Glaskowsky said Chromatic is exploiting the inability of these processors to perform certain multimedia tasks, including MPEG-2 and Dolby AC-3.
The upcoming P6 processors will eventually be able to offer good performance for some of these functions, but 3D graphics and sound processing are going to have to be offloaded to specialized chips for some time to come, so there is a continuing medium-term need for products like the Mpact, he added.
"Whatever level of functionality, the Mpact comes with a low penalty on the host [Pentium or P6] processor, and that leaves more processing power available for the host ... In my opinion, it's a good idea to have a card in your system that can offload tasks from the processor," Glaskowsky said.