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Software tackles DVD shortcoming

Next week, Mediamatics, Microsoft, and others will outline plans for software that would make it easier to play DVD titles on a PC.

    Mediamatics, IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), and others are set to detail plans next week for enabling DVD playback on a wide array of computers, including lower-end PCs that currently aren't offered with DVD drives.

    Mediamatics will show off new software for playing back the MPEG-2 standard-based video information on DVD players.

    By tapping into the processing power of the computer's existing main microprocessor as well as the graphics chip subsystem, the company hopes to to offer a DVD solution on multiple types of computer architectures, spanning both low-cost and higher-end price points. The technology can be used on processors including Intel's Pentium II, Advanced Micro Devices' K6, and Cyrix's MediaGX. It can also work with multiple graphics chips, the company claims.

    Also next week, Microsoft is expected to discuss DirectShow, an API for capture and playback of multimedia content that will be used in conjunction with Mediamatics software technology.

    Currently, playing back data from DVD titles on a PC takes a prodigious amount of processing power. Finding a way to do this with fewer components and at lower cost is the newest holy grail for the DVD industry.

    "Some people feel that if you have a fast processor, you might as well use it [to playback DVD titles] in software. The problem is that it would take most of a computer's [power] to do it, therefore most vendors are thinking of using separate hardware," says Dan Lavin, an analyst with Dataquest. "It's unclear who is right at the moment, but it's more likely that the software [solution] is not quite there," he says.

    Yet for Mediamatics, a subsidiary of National Semiconductor (NSM), the news is good, according to Lavin. Microsoft's interest in its technology shows Mediamatics might have the inside track on incorporation into upcoming versions of the Windows operating system, he says.