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Watch DTV on a PC

Price is often cited as one reason consumers have been slow to embrace digital television. Only high-tech enthusiasts with deep pockets have been willing to pay the premium for a new over-the-air digital receiver, necessary to enjoy DTV at home. A company called AccessDTV hopes to change that with an affordable solution that merges the worlds of DTV and personal computers.

AccessDTV offers a plug-in board that enables a standard desktop PC to receive and display digital broadcasts. The product went on sale March 26 through at a suggested retail price of $479. "We are in the business of media integration and services," said J. Dewey Weaver, president and CEO of AccessDTV. "We are bringing the television world and the Internet world together."

The Raleigh, N.C.-based company has a cross-promotion agreement with HD pioneer WRAL-TV to pitch the product and HDTV's benefits to WRAL's core audience in the Research Triangle area. Similar agreements with other HD broadcasters are in the works, Weaver said.

Introduced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in January, where it was a Best of CES finalist in the video category, the AccessDTV board slips into a standard PCI slot and has modest CPU demands. Minimum requirements are a 266-MHz Pentium II (or equivalent) and Microsoft Windows 98/2000/ME.

It ships with an indoor HDTV antenna to receive terrestrial HDTV signals and display them on a standard PC monitor. Video output allows use of a separate high-resolution display or video projector. The receiver, which contains a 125-channel analog tuner and a 69-channel DTV tuner, has coaxial inputs for standard digital cable or satellite set-top boxes.

Internet integration and other features are available through an optional monthly subscription service. Among the features are a customizable interactive programming guide and access to the receiver's personal video recorder (PVR) functions, including time-shifting and VCR-like fast-forward and rewind via on-screen button controls. Subscription customers also have instant messaging and chat specific to DTV broadcasts.

The PVR functions allow digital programming to be recorded on the computer's hard drive. A half-hour of DTV requires about 4 GB of disk space.

Local DTV broadcasters are in a position to reap the benefits of DTV and datacasting, Weaver says, adding that AccessDTV provides a way for them to begin to see some return on their digital broadcasting investment Datacasting is a major component of AccessDTV's business plan with local affiliate partners, he says.

The potential for datacasting is expected to help fuel rapid growth in the PC-TV-tuner market over the next few years, according to a March report by Cahners In-Stat Group (which is owned by the company that publishes BROADCASTING & CABLE). Annual revenues for the industry are expected to grow from $473 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2005.

"The right business model and the right technology are necessary to make that business work. I believe that's going to happen in 2001," Weaver says, "and AccessDTV is here to be one of the players."

Capitol Broadcasting, owner of WRAL-TV, is a financial backer of AccessDTV. In addition, DTV Plus, a division of Capitol Broadcasting, ran a successful pilot test of AccessDTV and datacasting in the fall of last year. The AccessDTV field test demonstrated that PC users were quick to accept the integration of the two technologies.

"If there's anything we've learned out of our pilot project, it's that, once they've had digital television on their computer, they don't want to go back," Sam Matheny, vice president and general manager of DTV Plus, told the News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh.

The benefits of integrating DTV and a PC were apparent during NCAA regional basketball tournaments in late March, Weaver said. AccessDTV viewers had access to four games simultaneously, thanks to the digital signal's subchannels, and could record everything to their PC's hard drive. Analog viewers were limited to watching the network's standard feed.

AccessDTV is at