Until just a few years ago, a technology chasm separated the PC and consumer technology industries – a yawning gap that prevented all but the most determined from hooking up their PC to their hi-fi system, let alone a television set.
Now, as the move towards technology convergence gathers pace, the two industries and their respective corporate standard bearers have had to find ways to work together.
The launch of the Media Center Edition version of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system – with its menu-driven user interface and TV-style remote control – coupled with efforts by Intel to improve the multimedia capabilities of its chips, have underscored the determination of the PC industry to turn the personal computer into the entertainment hub of the digital living room.
In order to deliver on this promise, graphics and audio card manufacturers and PC makers have had to build standard audio and video connectors into their systems.
So most PCs designed to work with traditional audio and TV systems today feature a bank of familiar connectors at the rear.
The video connectors are typically either ‘S’ video or ‘component’ connections – both of which can be used to send an analogue signal to a standard TV and sometimes a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) socket that can be used to send a digital video signal to a PC display or TV with the same connector.
DVI allows for a high-speed uncompressed connection between a digital television, PC and other DVI-based consumer electronics devices and only requires one cable to transfer the red-blue-green signal that makes up a TV image.
DVI, combined with a content protection system called High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) developed by Intel and widely supported by the Hollywood movie studios, was the standard for digital television until a few years ago when the High Definition Multimedia Interface was introduced.
The HDMI standard, developed by a broad consumer electronics industry consortium that includes Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Toshiba and a California chip specialist called Silicon Image, was launched in 2002.
Aside from speed and picture quality improvements, the big difference between HDMI and DVI is that HDMI transfers the video and audio signal while DVI only carries the video signal so HDMI only requires one cable instead of three or more.
So far, more than 300 makers of consumer electronics and PC products have adopted HDMI and more than 17m devices featuring HDMI were shipped during 2005, a figure that is forecast to grow to 59m this year, according to market researcher In-Stat.
Because it supports an industry standard digital rights management system called HDCP, designed to stop illegal copying, it has also won the support of Hollywood movie studios and other content creators. Among the PC-related companies that have adopted the standard are the three leading graphics card makers, ATI, Nvidia and Intel.
The latest version of the HDMI standard, which is due to be introduced within the next few months, includes support for over 1bn colours, higher data transmission speeds and easier integration into PCs and is expected to be widely adopted by both the consumer electronics and PC industries.
Finally it seems PCs and TVs will talk the same digital language making it significantly easier to download digital video content over the internet to a PC and then play it back on the TV.