If you’ve been eyeing those netbook computers, here’s something worth waiting for: New technology from Broadcom Corp. that will let you watch high-definition videos without draining the battery after 45 minutes.
The main criticism of these smaller, lighter and often cheaper computers is their mediocre performance. Watching a video takes effort, and a lot of battery. High-definition video? Forget it!
But the Irvine chipmaker, known for shrinking chips for Apple’s iPhone and other mobile phones, has created a tiny graphics chip to handle high-definition video so the netbook’s Intel processor can focus on keeping other things running smoothly. That, in turn, should improve overall battery life.
“The consumer is using their netbook to increasingly watch online videos and stream videos over the Internet,” said Shriraj Gaglani, Broadcom’s senior director, business development. “It’s very important to get the same quality of video and performance (from a netbook) that people expect from desktop computers.”
Expect that quality with Broadcom’s new Crystal HD chip, which occupies less space in a netbook as a competing chip from Intel. The chip can handle a variety of video formats but Broadcom worked closely with Adobe to make sure Adobe Flash-based videos run smoothly. The Flash video format, which is used by Hulu.com and YouTube, is behind about 80 percent of the video formats on the web, Gaglani said.
The chip can handle 30 frames per second of high-definition playback. And since it’s handling the video itself, the netbook’s main computer chip has a utilization of 30 percent or less, Gaglani said. That helps the battery last longer.
“You can get on a flight and watch a 3- to-4 hour movie and finish it before the battery runs out,” Gaglani said. “If you tried to watch an HD video decoded today without our device, it would probably run the battery down in less than 45 minutes.”
Adobe and Broadcom are at the Computex trade show in Taipei, China today to unveil the latest chip — and sell it to manufacturers who are building the next generation of netbooks.
The chip was designed for video playback so it won’t necessarily improve the netbook’s performance for those wanting to edit video or other processor-intensive tasks.
The first netbooks with Broadcom’s chip should be available by this fall. Acer plans to use it in select Acer Aspire One netbooks.
Separately, but at the same show, Broadcom announced an integrated Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip that also targets netbooks. The InConcert chipset puts the two wireless technologies on a “half-size mini card,” which should bring the cost down because of shared materials, said Kevin Mukai, Broadcom’s product line marketing manager. The chip combo module (corrected at 8:44 p.m.) will have the latest version of Wi-Fi, or 802.11n, and could start making an appearance in netbooks by this fall.
Past stories on netbooks: