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Chromatic to release combo chip

Chromatic's new Mpact2 chip puts 3D and 2D graphics and DVD functionality on a single piece of silicon.

Chromatic Research and its manufacturing partners next week will preview an all-in-one media accelerator that combines 3D and 2D graphics with Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) functionality on a single piece of silicon.

Called the Mpact2, the new chip is expected to cause prices on add-in cards and multimedia computers to drop, because it eliminates the need for separate chips and add-in boards for graphics and DVD. At the same time, the development gives Chromatic an opportunity to distinguish itself, or at least keep pace, in an increasingly competitive field.

"By tying their wagon to this shooting DVD star they are trying to justify more value and occupy more space in the box," said Dale Ford, an analyst at Dataquest. "It is a path that other graphics vendors are trying?It can save a significant amount of expense [for buyers]."

The Mpact2 will provide television-quality MPEG video as well as high-end 3D performance, according to the company. The chip can support native DVD resolution of 720x480. On the graphics side, the company is claiming a number of performance enhancements. In the end, the chip is designed to provide faster, smoother graphics as well as crisper resolution on programs that mix together video and graphics.

Although Chromatic's current chip, the Mpact1, is primarily touted as a 3D/2D graphics processor, it actually works best as a DVD processor, according to Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst at the Microprocessor Report. "It is actually 2D only. 3D is in the software. DVD has been the only market that Mpact1 has had any success," he said.

Gateway 2000 uses the Mpact1 to run the DVD functions in its Destination PC-TV, he said, but not complex graphics.

Like Ford, Glaskowsky believes that the combined chip will have an appeal because it should cut down on silicon. Separately, DVD processors and graphics accelerators sell to OEMs for around $30 each. "If they can sell it for $50," he said, it could be popular.

So far, Leadtek Research and E4 have said they will make Mpact2 boards.

While Chromatic has designed the chip, it will be manufactured by Toshiba, SGS Thomson, and LG Semicon.

The Mpact2 will be released to computer OEMs and add-in card makers in October. Toshiba, SGS, and Semicon will announce pricing separately.

Dataquest's Ford said that the combined chips generally provide better DVD performance than the software-only DVD solutions, but not as well as when graphics and DVD each have a dedicated chip. Still, "when you put them on a 233-MHz or 266-MHz [computer], you're getting good performance. It's impressive," he said.

Although DVD has been steadily gaining adherents this year, the recent release of video playback technology from Divx may slow down adoption of video-on-computer techniques altogether. Divx is similar to DVD, but allegedly provides better protection against illicit copying. Film studios and other content providers have divided their support between the two standards.

Unfortunately, DVD and Divx players and discs are not fully compatible. The disparity likely means a standards war, observers have said. And that typically means delays in product adoption.