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Compaq to bring TV to PCs

Compaq, along with Panasonic, will take another shot at combining TV with the PC.

Tapping into interactive digital TV on your PC will be one of the big messages emanating from the Comdex computer show.

Compaq and Panasonic will debut at Comdex next week hardware for viewing digital TV (DTV) on a PC, as the computing industry seeks to establish computers as one of the first big markets for receiving these high-quality broadcasts.

Early next year Compaq will offer the hardware as options for its workstation computers and Presario line of consumer PCs. Pricing for the two circuit boards--which can plug into a desktop PC--from Panasonic is expected to range between $800 and $900, Compaq said. A digital high-definition TV, by contrast, will initially cost well over $5,000.

Essentially, a computer is almost a ready-made DTV since the technology is already digital. All that is needed is some additional hardware to receive the signal for viewing on a computer display. The two companies' add-on DTV circuit boards are like any other digital feature you might add to your computer, such as a DVD drive, according to Trey Smith, vice president at Compaq's Consumer Products Group.

"People are playing DVD movies on their PCs today and now they are looking for the next thing...which is interactive TV," said Smith, though he readily admits that the market is so new that it will be a while yet before these technologies have a chance of becoming part of the mainstream consumer PC market.

Compaq's initial foray into PC-TVs was not a commercial success and the company eventually stopped promoting its "PC Theatre" system because it was too pricey--over $5,000--and there was little demand for these hybrid products. Smith says this was simply a marketing experiment.

This time Compaq is targeting hardware that can be added to a PC at a much lower price.

With the start of high-definition digital broadcasts earlier this month, the two hardware giants decided to launch these DTV circuit boards, joining others such as Intel and Philips who are also trying to promote DTV on the PC.

The circuit boards enable computers to receive and playback digital television signals on the screen of a PC.

The two companies say the boards are compatible with major standards for both traditional "analog" broadcasts and digital ones.

The new PC-DTV boards "leverage the computing power already in the PC to provide an alternative digital TV solution," the companies said in a statement.

Panasonic will initially market the products to PC makers, broadcasters, content creation studios, content developers, and "others with a stake in the developing DTV industry," the company said.

This "allows PCs to become, in effect, high-definition televisions," said Compaq's Smith.