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Lucent, Matsushita team on digital TV

Lucent and Matsushita announce a circuit board design that will make it easier for computer vendors to incorporate digital TV functionality into their PCs.

PC-TV convergence took another step forward today when Lucent and Matsushita announced that they have created a circuit board design that will make it easier for computer vendors to incorporate digital TV functionality into their PCs.

The reference design is essentially a blueprint for making a relatively inexpensive PC card that can capture TV signals and transform them into digital video streams which can be viewed on a PC screen or TV monitor. The board design, based around chips from Lucent and Matsushita, is currently being tested by Microsoft and Compaq, according to Lucent.

Both Lucent and Compaq are exhibiting cards based on this design at the National Association of Broadcasters convention this week in Las Vegas.

PC-TV is a concept that has been waiting to happen for years. Should it ever become a reality, business users will be able to use PC-TV cards to receive news and other programs on their work computers. At home, the convergence of the two platforms is touted as a way to increase household PC penetration.

So far, however, the dream has not panned out. The first PC-TVs were gargantuan family entertainment centers that cost between $3,000 and $5,000 and did not sell well. Computer makers have also been reluctant to include TV tuner cards into their PCs because demand for TV capabilities has remained relatively slight. Further, PC makers, TV vendors, programmers, and broadcasters have yet to agree on technological standards.

"People have tried it, but it has never taken off," explained Kevin Hause, computer analyst for International Data Corporation.

But the picture is changing rapidly, said Jae Kim, an analyst with Paul Kagan & Associates. On the content and broadcasting side, traditional TV powers are giving their products a digital bent, as digital broadcasting has already begun in certain cities. In addition, various broadcasters have announced that they will start to engage in "data broadcasting," or programming integrated with Web content, which is expected to drive demand for computing devices connected to the PC.

Digital broadcasts deliver higher quality images and sound. All computer technology is rooted in the digital format, which acts to blurr the line between TVs and computers.

"It is starting to gain momentum," Kim said.

In the PC arena, Microsoft is recommending that PC vendors incorporate TV tuner cards into their entertainment PCs, he said. The Lucent reference design and other cards like it could be important in this effort because the cards will supplement processing power on machines that aren't on the cutting edge of performance.

"This announcement by Lucent and Matsushita is important, because it potentially bridges the gap between Moore's law cycles," he said, referring to the technology's ability to deliver more computing power without a corresponding two-fold increase in processor power.

The reference design comes incorporates a Lucent AV8100 chip and chip hardware from from Matsushita. The chips come on one, rather than two, circuit boards, which is expected to cut down design requirements.