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DTV PC Tuner Card Offers High Definition PVR Capability

Hoping to expand the “convergence” concept into the digital television (DTV) space, accessDTV is preparing to initiate a regionalized retail rollout of a television receiver card and software that will allow home PCs to receive and record to their hard drives over-the-air DTV and analog television broadcasts.

Currently, the company sells the product through online retailer Digital Connection but accessDTV president Dewey Weaver III said his firm soon will announce brick&mortar distribution agreements with a high-end A/V retail chain and a regional PC retail chain in the Raleigh marketplace. That will be the first leg in a planned national rollout.

As well, the company has OEM deals with PC maker RKR and a second undisclosed manufacturer to include the accessDTV receiver card and software in a pair of “home theater PCs.”

Using the accessDTV product, consumers will be able to watch digital television stations on their computer screens, or on their digital television monitors, if they connect the PC to a high-scan television display.

The PCI-based tuner card uses a NxtWave NXT-2000 demodulation chip that will decode 8-VSB (over-the-air) and 64 and 256 QAM (cable) modulated digital television signals.

Additionally, the software shipped with the card will enable the PC to record programs to the hard drive, just as personal video recorders (PVRs) such as TiVo and UltimateTV do. However, the accessDTV system will go a step further than those devices by recording bit stream signals of programs in full high-definition format.

Weaver said a full 19.5mbps bit rate DTV signal will require 9GB of hard drive capacity for one hour of video recording time.

“That means everything that is in the signal is recorded and can be played back later, whether it is multiple channels inside of a sub-channel, or one full HDTV channel or a standard definition channel and data,” Weaver said. “If you look at one-hour at 9GB we have a way, if you start to record, of telling you how much space is available and if you have enough space available to complete that process.”

This would make the product one of the first HDTV recording devices available for consumer use and purchase. However, due to copyright concerns, the first generation will not allow users to make copies of recorded material for permanent archival purposes or send the files out over the Internet, Weaver said.

“We allow recording to the PC bus, but what we do is wrap that file so that it only plays back on the cards it has permission to playback from,” said Weaver. “That is proprietary encryption, and we feel we had to do that today because of the importance of digital rights management and copy protection and the aggressive nature of the people supporting the content owners.

“We are looking forward to the evolution where 1394 connectivity is possible, and we have today in our lab a 1394 network running and moving our content all over the place from recorded playback or live,” he continued. “We have a partnership we are working on where that could be brought to market sooner rather than later.”

Like TiVo and UltimateTV, the PVR component of accessDTV will require a subscription-based program listing service costing $9.95 per month (a $195 two-year option is also available). Consumers will receive the first 30 days of service free under a trial offer. But unlike other PVR services, accessDTV is allowing the retailers to share in the subscription revenue stream when they sign up customers at the point of sale, Weaver said.

Under a subscription, program listing information is regularly downloaded from the Internet into a specially designed personal program guide that users can customize with some or all of the channels available to them via cable, satellite and over the air.

Weaver said that while a PC with accessDTV would be the ultimate digital receiver for the living room home theater, it is not his intention of taking on the DTV set-top box manufacturers.

“We would like to make our product desirable enough so that a certain percentage of the installed base of personal computers in America is watching digital television on their PC,” Weaver said. “That’s not where the whole market is, but that’s where we believe we can enable a lot of digital eyeballs.”

Minimum system requirements in the PC are: a Pentium II processor (between 300-400Mhz) or greater and Windows 98 Second Edition or higher. Recommended hard drive capacity is 9GB or higher.

Currently, accessDTV is offered in two product packages: a “total solution kit” including the receiver card and software and a Silver Sensor indoor antenna and coaxial cable for a $399 suggested retail; and a standalone receiver and software package for $379.

Weaver said his company is working only on a direct-sales basis with retailers, but he is negotiating with a prominent third-party distributor as the next phase of the retail rollout.

Because the product will receive a full range of video and data cast content from broadcasters, accessDTV has reached a deal with Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL station in Raleigh, N.C., to promote the accessDTV receivers and retailers carrying it in that market, starting this month, Weaver said.

“We have established a local-affiliate program because we believe that the local broadcaster has put the most into [the DTV transition] and is basically receiving the least,” Weaver said. “Our program is designed to accelerate the number of digital eyeballs available in their market.

“WRAL will promote accessDTV on the air in a number of capacities starting in August in order to get a significant number of receivers in this market, where we can then promote their brand and their programming as well as their datacast components.”

Weaver said Raleigh will be the lead rollout market, but “other stations are lined up behind them.”