Q&A: S3 CEO Johnson on film-quality video

PCDN this week caught up with S3 president and CEO Gary Johnson on a flying visit to London. Already the distant leader in supply PC graphics accelerators, Johnson was back in his native country to talk about what he sees as a paradigm shift in video on PCs, based on an alliance with Faroudja Technologies.

PCDN this week caught up with S3 president and CEO Gary Johnson on a flying visit to London. Already the distant leader in supply PC graphics accelerators, Johnson was back in his native country to talk about what he sees as a paradigm shift in video on PCs, based on an alliance with Faroudja Technologies. His boast? Nothing less than cinema-quality video on a standard desktop.

Tell us about why you're so excited about this development?

We were looking for a solution for a problem which was that DVD was going to end up looking worse on a $3,000 PC than a $300 TV. People's expectations for the consumer space are for great quality display. We believe DVD will be deployed more quickly in the PC world than in the consumer appliance world - up to four times faster, according to Dataquest, so there were some real challenges.

Explain the problem

It sounds obvious but one of the real "aha's" is that DVD is formatted for the TV and what was perhaps forgotten was the PC. It doesn't mean that the decoding won't work; the issue is quality. Will DVD disappoint on PCs? Out answer is that video on PCs can be great.

Nobody until today has been able to show the removal of motion picture artefacts, provide richer film-type colour feel, the ability to give a true 3D feeling, improving the brightness and quality of display.

Compression, while it's great for speed, creates problems and we have five patents for motion compensation and exclusive rights to the Faroudja technology. We looked long and hard for the best proprietary technology. PC makers are crying out for great video to differentiate their products. We believe that for the first time the PC will display better quality video than a TV. That sounds crazy - usually if you stand a TV next to PC the difference is terrible - but it's true.

Will the technology be licensed to make a broad standard?

No, the technology is unique and highly complex - more than a million gates - and the only way to justify the expense is [to keep it proprietary]. However, it will be widely offered by card makers. The technology will proliferate and move rapidly through the price curve. We'll have a reference design very shortly and board-level reference designs for OEMs in the second half of this year, and a fully integrated card with 3D and 2D on a single chip in 1998. It will quickly become a $250 product. End-users will look at it and never go back; it's like listening to CDs after tapes.

The worlds are coming together between the PC and the consumer box. Many of the challenges have already been addressed. 3D is clearly an area dominated by us. There'll be a new chip out very shortly - the Virge GX2. We don't fixate on one technology. Our strength is seeing a technology early and mixing it with [other features].

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