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Searching for the holy grail of Web-to-TV video

A new company formed by AST's Safi Qureshey could remake how we use video on the Web--and speed the reinvention of the media industry, argues Fortune's David Kirkpatrick.

By David Kirkpatrick, Fortune senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- I hadn't seen Safi Qureshey in about ten years, since AST, the important early PC company he co-founded (he was the "S") faded from view. But after I spent an hour or so with him and managers from his new company, Quartics, I realized his new company could be even more important than his first one.

Talking to him reinforced my impression that the media world, especially television and cable, will be threatened and transformed even faster than most realize. How? Quartics makes a chip that gets video from your PC to a TV. And it does it with minimal effort and at low cost. That's something we've all been waiting for.

Says Quartics President Sherjil Ahmed: "The whole purpose is to take content off your PC and put it onto another device, whether it's a TV or another kind of second screen." Apple (Charts) is scheduled to launch a Web-to-TV product, which it calls iTV, early next year, but machines using Quartics' chips should be ready by Christmas, says Qureshey.

Similar products will be coming from a range of companies. And these video transfer devices will be far more versatile than what Apple seems likely to offer. Not only that, but Qureshey says the boxes with his chips will sell for between $149-$199 initially, and in the near future, he hopes, will go down to to the vicinity of $99. "More and more content is coming from the Internet," says Qureshey, "but it always stops at the PC, on a small screen."

These companies will sell a small box you attach to your TV set. It will use Wi-Fi to connect to your PC. Software will come down onto your PC that allows you to take any kind of video that works there and show it on the TV as large as the quality will allow.

Several things set Quartics apart. For one thing, its product will be able to process any kind of video. It has licensed every available video standard. That means that iTunes, YouTube, Flash, Real, Windows Media, and other kinds of video will simply work. Once you have a Wi-Fi connection to the TV, you just surf the net, find video, and play it on your TV. Quartics will in fact send any kind of digital content from your PC to any screen, or to a projector, for instance.

It could make showing Powerpoints or doing web demos much easier. If the projector has a device using a Quartics chip, you will just find it over Wi-Fi, and run your PC over the projector. Qureshey says Quartics will eventually build a range of other chips, including one that will go into a laptop to allow you to show video--even full HD video--with minimal power consumption: less than 3 watts, as opposed to the 21-31 watts it takes to show large-screen video today. The company has already received four patents, and applied for 18 more.

Qureshey and Ahmed say all this is possible because unlike other media processing chips from companies like ATI, Nvidia and others, their technology focuses just on making video work better. And the chips are programmable, which means that they can be made to work with whatever comes along in the future. "When a new Chinese TV standard comes we'll support it," says Ahmed.

Qureshey reels off a list of just about every major PC-peripheral company, saying Quartics is either in talks with them or already has a deal for them to build products with the new chip. TV makers are talking about building Quartics' technology into their machines, the executives say. PC companies, too, are interested in shipping a Quartics-enabled box with their PCs. Interest is coming even from content owners like TV-show producers and TV networks, some of whom are talking about building their own private-label Quartics boxes in order to promote their content over the web. Among those Quartics has talked to are CinemaNow, JumpTV, and the Playboy Channel.

Apple's iTV is expected only to work with video streaming from iTunes. That will make it considerably less versatile than devices using the Quartics chip. But there is a possibility that even Apple will join this party. Quartics has taken its chip over to Cupertino for demos. Says Ahmed: "Apple told me they had been looking long and hard for a product like this and hadn't found one. We're going through technical processes with them now." Discussions with Apple focus on the energy-saving processor for laptops.

Since video will more and more be a critical thing--even THE critical thing---we want from the Internet, getting it onto any screen in our homes or offices is a very big deal. This company, out of nowhere, may speed the shift of our attention even more rapidly toward the web when we want to see video entertainment.

This will be ideal for TV shows, movies, and home-produced video. But even if you're watching a friend's video on YouTube, wouldn't you want to play it on the TV with no hassle? As bandwidth increases and you can download HD content as well, why shouldn't you be able to play it on your TV?

Says Qureshey: "This was worth coming out of retirement for."

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