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Workers want their LanTV

Chip maker Acorn turns local area networks into miniature broadcast networks.

The local area network can now operate like a miniature broadcast network with a package announced today by Acorn.

Acorn's LanTV is a hardware and software package that lets users select videos from a corporate server, such as a training video or new employee introduction, and then watch it at their desks. LanTV delivers high-definition graphics on inexpensive displays, including TV displays, the company said.

What LanTV does is provide full-screen MPEG2 and/or MPEG1 video playback across the network, specifically Ethernet or ATM Forum LANs. The system is intended for use by corporate intranets, self-contained entertainment systems such as those used by hotels and cruise ships, or educational institutions such as libraries.

LanTV requires a video server, such as Oracle's VideoServer, to transmit over the network. The server can also be used to handle billing functions if the system requires users to pay for what they watch.

Acorn won't sell the device directly to customers but will license it to computer vendors who can then bundle it with the server or desktop hardware and sell the complete package.

The video doesn't have to be canned, either--it can be real-time feeds from television signals, video cameras, or other MPEG sources. LanTV can also can interpret PAL and NTSC television signals. For example, employees could tune in to the CEO's address to shareholders or could use LanTV for videoconference meetings with clients.

Acorn's offering has only a limited potential market for the time being, according to Van Baker, an analyst with market research firm Dataquest.

Baker also noted that the device isn't Acorn's usual kind of product. "Mostly we've thought of Acorn as a PC supplier in Europe and a processor supplier. It's kind of a new area for them," said Baker.

Brian Murphy, an analyst with The Yankee Group, agrees that it's a bit far afield for Acorn but sees a lot of promise in the concept of LanTV. "It makes it realistic for IT organizations to build systems that use video," said Murphy.

Companies like Oracle, for example, have had a hard time selling their video servers and other video-delivery equipment; customers generally like the idea, but are reluctant to make the necessary infrastructure investment. The LanTV lets them use their existing local networks.

Acorn is a long-time partner with Oracle, which endorsed the LanTV in Acorn's press release today.

The LanTV's interface is an HTML 3.2 compliant Web browser, with special features added for controlling movies and live feeds displayed on a Web page.

The first LanTV devices, the STB22, is based on the ARM7500FE processor. Acorn said that upcoming versions of the LanTV client will be based on the more powerful StrongARM processor.