US Report: HDTV will bow to the computer

Despite forecasts of slow growth in the digital TV market, companies are announcing computer-based products in attempts to grab early market share.

Announcements include specialised chips that allow digital TV signals and interactive content to be picked up on personal computers and set-top boxes. Semiconductor newcomer TeraLogic and old hand Panasonic Industrial separately unveiled plans yesterday for products that will merge digital TV technology with that of the PC.

The trend is expected to continue, said Richard Doherty, director of market research for new-media technology researcher The Envisioneering Group. "We expect that there will be far more people receiving digital TV signals through their PCs rather than digital devices, like an HDTV," he said.

TeraLogic, a start-up formed in 1996, has placed a lot of PC technology in its prototype chips to merge PC interactivity with the TV. The 'reference platform' highlights the company's TL850 graphics processor, code-named Cougar, that can handle not only all 18 new digital TV formats, but interactive content as well.

Set-top boxes based on the platform could display email, electronic program guides, Java-based content, and of course, Web pages.

The announcements follow a similar one by startup Broadcom Corp.

The reference platform gives interested set-top box manufacturers a head start in creating their own products using TeraLogic's chip, while supporting the OpenCable initiative -- an alliance of cable companies that ensures next-generation digital cable architectures will work together.

"TeraLogic's open architecture strategy is in line with that of the Open Cable project," said Laurie Schwartz, vice president of advanced platforms and services for the industry association in a statement.

But while TeraLogic has the support of computer industry giant Sun, set-top box maker General Instruments and interactive software maker PlanetWeb, no final contracts have emerged.

"They are a serious contender," said Envisioneering Group's Doherty, "but there is a very tough thing in this industry about having concrete orders."

The Cougar chip is TeraLogic's second entry into the set-top box market, following its TL750, which will ship "millions" of units this year, said Kishore Manghnani, TeraLogic's vice president or marketing.

Panasonic Industrial, meantime, has gone the other way, looking to display the TV on PCs. The Japanese company announced its own digital TV entry -- a dual-board option for displaying digital signals on the PC. The two boards can receive all 18 formats approved by the Federal Communications Commission as well as today's standard analogue NTSC format.

The product was developed in conjunction with Compaq and will initially be sold directly to PC manufacturers. "We expect to accelerate high-definition and digital TV in [the US]," said Ash Chabra, group manager for Panasonic Industrial, in a statement.

Doherty believes TV-on-PC technologies such as Panasonic's will initially dominate the digital TV market, shipping more than 100,000 units in the first year -- as compared with about 12,000 digital TVs. "These announcements are only the first," he said. "There are a handful or two more in the works."

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