TV on a PC? We can do it - 3Dfx...

For almost 10 years, the computer industry has pounded away on applications for putting TV pictures on a computer monitor -- with only mild success.

Graphics chip, and soon-to-be board maker, 3Dfx Interactive Inc. hopes to change that.

On Monday, the company unveiled its latest product -- merging the company's high-end video card with a TV tuner card, which adds the ability to display TV signals, decode DVD signals, and encode MPEG2 video files from, say, a VCR. "We think this is going to become a pretty big product," said Michael Howse, vice president of corporate marketing for 3Dfx Interactive. "High performance graphics, TV tuner, FM tuner -- it is the ultimate entertainment platform."

Called the Voodoo3 3500 TV, the new board has a lot going for it. For one, the Voodoo brand name carries a lot of punch for gamers. Already, two of the three boards that 3Dfx Interactive released in April have topped the sales chart. The company also boasts that Voodoo technology powered 73 percent of the graphics boards sold in the fourth quarter of 1998. In addition, the board is actually made by STB Systems Inc. -- a company that has made many hybrid graphics/TV-tuning boards. "STB has had a lot of practice doing this," said Jon Peddie, president of graphics market watcher Jon Peddie Associates based in Tiburon, California. "They know what they are doing."

Last December, 3Dfx Interactive and STB agreed to merge in a deal worth $141m (£86m). Want to watch TV on your PC? The board can do it. Want to hook up your PC to your VCR and edit videos? The board can do it. Yet, who would want to, asks Peddie, adding that TV-tuning boards -- even those integrated with the graphics accelerator -- are tough sells. "I just don't get it," he said. "For $249 [the retail price of the 3500 TV], you can get a pretty good TV."

In fact, 3Dfx Interactive's move resembles that of Hewlett-Packard Co. and its drive to get photo-albums-on-the-PC to take off. Yet, despite scanners and digital cameras being available, few people actually keep a database of photos on their PC. "It's a pain to make photo albums," said Alexis Gerard, president and principal analyst of digital imaging market watcher Future Image. "And until it becomes easier, not many people are going to keep their images on their computer."

And, until TV shown on a computer monitor or video editing becomes a snap, 3Dfx's market will most likely be limited as well.

Would you buy one for $249 (£152)? Tell the Mailroom.