SAN FRANCISCO (02/03/2000) - Want HDTV in your living room but can't afford it?
There may soon be a cheaper and, perhaps, even better way to watch high-definition broadcasts: on your computer. After all, your monitor already has the necessary resolution, and a PC is well suited for HDTV's interactive capabilities.
Ravisent Technologies is betting that you will see the advantages of PC-based HDTV. Haven't heard of Ravisent? Don't feel bad; they haven't heard of you either.
The company's line of DVD decoder/player software already has HDTV support, but they don't sell it directly to you. Instead, the company licenses its software to hardware manufacturers. Ravisent's various MPEG decoder/player programs, designed for watching DVDs on your PC, come with a great many DVD-ROM drives and DVD-ROM-equipped computers.
And many of those computers are now semi-HDTV-ready. Ravisent announced this week that all of its players shipped since mid-1999 support the various USA HDTV formats defined by the Advanced Television Standards Committee.
What does that mean for you? For the time being, nothing. Player software is a small part of the HDTV PC requirements. You'll also need an add-in tuning card, an application for tuning the "TV" to a specific station, and streaming software to connect the tuning card to the player software.
When can you get all this? Probably not before summer.
But when the time finally arrives, you'll be able to buy an HDTV-capable computer for about US$150 more than a similarly configured PC. There will also be upgrade kits containing a card and all of the necessary software, including the player. In other words, having an HDTV-ready player now is totally irrelevant.
The eventual promise -- HDTV as a modest peripheral rather than a US$4,000 TV set -- is wonderful. The catch, of course, is the size of your monitor -- you may not be satisfied watching HDTV on a 15-inch screen.
But PCs have another advantage: Once stations are broadcasting digital HDTV, they'll have the ability to add other types of data to their signals. They might, for instance, include animation-intensive Web pages. PCs, designed from the ground up to be interactive and always equipped with keyboards and mice, will make the perfect tools for such high-bandwidth multimedia.
For the time being, Ravisent's HDTV player is meaningless. But what's coming down the pipe may make your PC -- once just a better typewriter -- into a better TV. Talk about mouse potatoes!