SAN FRANCISCO -- Computer designers have long struggled to integrate video images with the words, numbers and primitive graphics that usually appear on a computer screen. Such a marriage of computers and television would open up broad new technological horizons for businessmen and consumers, revolutionizing everything from film-editing to game-playing.
Now, after several fitful moves toward the altar, it appears that the marriage made in technology heaven is ready to be consummated.
Intel Corp. introduced a set of components yesterday that should make it far easier and cheaper to build a multimedia computer, and some other companies are pushing ahead with products that bring the computer world into the video age.
By next year, analysts and industry officials say, most major personal computer companies will have multimedia machines on the market. Such computers will allow full-motion video, high-resolution still pictures and stereophonic sound to be manipulated and stored just as text is, and they'll cost only $1,000 to $2,000 more than traditional PCs.
Already, it is possible to give a personal computer or desktop workstation multimedia capabilities. C-Cube Microsystems, a new company in San Jose, Calif., markets an advanced video-processing circuit board that is used on Next Inc.'s computer, for example.
But the new Intel product, a pair of microprocessors that will be sold to computer vendors for integration into new products, should help bring multimedia into the mainstream.
The chips are actually a further refinement of a technology that Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel purchased from General Electric in 1988.
The key to bringing video into the computer lies in image compression, condensing the enormous number of digital signals that a computer uses to represent a picture. The only way a computer can manipulate and store an image is for all of the information to be condensed by representing it in mathematical formulas.
A multimedia machine would include processors to carry out the compression and decompression calculations and control a high-resolution monitor, as well as a compact disk to store all of the information.