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Microtune, 3dfx Add TV Tuning to PC

With help from Microtune Inc. and 3dfx Interactive Inc., the personal computer can behave more like a television.

Last week, 3dfx unveiled a series of PCI (peripheral component interconnect) cards called "VoodooTV," designed to bring video and FM-radio tuning and recording functions to the TV set.

Microtune's "MT2032" silicon-based tuner is a key component of the card. It serves as a "gateway" for high-resolution audio, video and high-speed broadcast data. 3dfx is well known in the PC industry as a maker of graphics-accelerator chips, boards and software.

The VoodooTV 200 card also packs a Conexant Systems Inc. video decoder, a Micronas GmbH audio decoder, and 3dfx's "VisualReality" software, said 3dfx director of multimedia products Kirk Leitch.

Also included is an interface to control TV and FM radio tuning and recording, with a little help from Ligos Technology's MPEG (Moving Picture Expert Group) encoder/decoder codec. InterVideo Inc.'s MP3 encoder also beefs up the card's audio capability.

The $99 card will be available this week (Oct. 17). VoodooTV 200 supports the North American NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) transmission format, while a European version, "VoodooTV-FM," supports the PAL (Phase Alternate Line) video format. Input interfaces include a TV antenna/cable connector, composite and S-video connector for VCRs or camcorders, and a stereo audio-in connector.

Microtune's MT2032 tuner is capable of both analog and digital TV reception and supports data broadcasts, said Microtune chief technical officer John Norsworthy.

The cards are designed to give greater functionality to PCs, which are increasingly being used for video and TV applications, Leitch added.

"We've seen a shift in the way people use PCs," he said. PCI TV tuner cards have been on the market for some time, and many people have opened a TV window on their PC to follow sporting events or business news while working," said Leitch.

"We've seen instances where people use their PC as a second or third TV," he added. The new cards offer PC TV viewers several new options, including the ability to listen to FM radio and capture it in the MP3 format, record video in MPEG-1 format and store the recordings either on the computer's hard drive or on a rewriteable CD.

"The best thing about the product is it's very flexible and has a multitude of uses," said Leitch.

VisualReality software serves as both TV tuner and remote control, and lets users program recording sessions; capture still images; or adjust color, brightness and contrast. The FM tuner allows users to establish station presets and also includes a recording applet.

Leitch harbors no illusions that PCs will replaces standard TV sets as the primary home-viewing device. But with much TV programming now tied to Web content, users may see some utility in watching shows from the same machine they use to surf.

The 3dfx announcement is the first publicized use of Microtune's device, said president Jim Fontaine. The company went public this summer and had doubled its initial share price as of this writing.

The deal follows several announcements with modem vendors this year, including Cisco Systems Inc., Motorola Communications Sector, Askey Computer Corp. and Com21 Inc., which agreed to incorporate Microtune's MT2030 tuner.