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Fast memory for digital TV

A licensing deal will bump data transfer rates in high-definition TV and other products from 100 MHz to more than 600 MHz.

Matsushita Electric said today that it is licensing high-speed memory technology from Rambus, a move that will likely boost the performance of that company's high-definition digital TVs and other optical consumer technology in the near future.

Matsushita will incorporate Rambus's Direct Rambus memory interface technology, which radically speeds up data flow between microcomponents, the company said. These products would likely start coming out after the first quarter of 2000.

In all likelihood, that means that the high-speed memory will be used in high-definition televisions--which produce high-quality images--or receivers capable of capturing digital TV signals and converting them for use on a normal TV, said John Cassell, consumer products analyst at Dataquest.

"In the digital television architecture, what is required is a lot of memory for video decompression," he said. It's very bandwidth-intensive. You need very fast access memory to do this."

High-definition television sets are set to start hitting the market by the fourth quarter of this year, when more digital TV trials begin in earnest. Matsushita is the parent company for Panasonic and other consumer brands.

The Direct Rambus technology speeds up the rate at which data flows to and from microprocessors, graphics chips, and other central microcomponents and main memory, said a Rambus representative. Memory chips that incorporate Direct Rambus can now send memory data at a rate of 600 MHz and will run at 800 MHz in the near future, the representative added. Current memory runs at a maximum data rate of only 100 MHz.

Rambus itself does not make memory chips. Instead, it licenses its technology to semiconductor manufacturers, who then incorporate it into memory chips and other parts. To work, Direct Rambus must be incorporated in both the memory chips and processors performing logic functions.

So far, 25 semiconductor manufacturers and the 14 largest memory manufacturers have licensed the technology. Chips that utilize the technology can be found in microcomponents in computers from Hewlett-Packard and IBM as well as in the Nintendo 64 game player from Nintendo. The full impact of Rambus technology inside of computers, however, has yet to hit.