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Broadcom Corp., a leading communication company, has introduced the first special-purpose high-definition media accelerator for personal computers. The company hopes that its solution will allow watching HD movies even on inexpensive computers. Nonetheless, market prospects of the solutions are not truly clear.

High-definition videos in 1280x720 (720p) or 1920x1080 (1080p) resolutions encoded with H.264, MPEG2 HD and VC-1 codecs require a serious amount of processing power to decode and not every central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU) have enough power to decode them without lagging or dropping frames. As a result, movies in high-definition formats, including Blu-ray, HD DVD, or just those distributed via the Internet may not play well on outdated or low-end computers.

Broadcom’s so-called media PC technology allows to decode variety of hi-def formats, including H.264, MPEG2 HD and VC-1 while consuming only about 2W of power. The solution consists of a chipset and certain supporting logic and is available in various forms and form-factors, including such as PCI Express mini card, PCI Express desktop adapter, ExpressCard 34 or as a set of chips for integration onto a mainboard.

The BCM70010/BCM70012 solution from Broadcom is supported by new versions of such players as CyberLink PowerDVD as well as InterVideo WinDVD under Microsoft Windows XP or Vista operating systems.

The main advantage of the solution, according to Broadcom, is its relatively low price, which is about $40. However, while Broadcom’s media PC technology can help to decode HD videos on systems running single-core microprocessors released several years ago along with outdated graphics cards. But it should be kept in mind that such systems may not support high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) technology, without which certain discs with implemented image constraint token (ICT) will downgrade resolution to 960x540 (540p) from 1080p, may not be equipped with a monitor capable of 1080p resolution and is hardly equipped with a Blu-ray or HD DVD optical drive.

As a result, end-users seeking for HD on their systems, should obtain a new graphics card with HDCP or HDMI ($149 and up), a new monitor with HDCP or a TV-set with HDMI as well as a new optical drive ($300 and up). To sum up the cost of adding an appropriate drive along with some other enhancements may increase to $450, even without Broadcom’s HD video accelerator counted.

Broadcom’s media PC technology may eventually find itself inside media-center personal computers with graphics cores without HD video acceleration integrated into chipsets. However, modern home-theater PCs are usually equipped with rather powerful central processing units and may not need a special HD video accelerator. On the other hand, low power consumption of the device may catalyze certain laptop makers to integrate it into their mobile machines in order to increase battery life in case of HD video playback.

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