A chance meeting with Safi Qureshey, one of the early pioneers of PC revolution, took me on a trip down memory lane, back to the go-go days of early 1990s when PC stocks generated as much enthusiasm amongst investors as Google (GOOG) does today.
Qureshey was one of the three co-founders of AST Research, a PC hardware company whose star shined as brightly as the established brands such as IBM (IBM), Compaq and Hewlett Packard (HPQ). In 11 years it went from a startup to a Fortune 500 company, only to vanish in the mists of time, as the direct sales model of Dell (DELL) took over the PC industry.
A soft-spoken man, Qureshey knew that Intel’s decision to standardize the PC business around its motherboards would eventually turn the business into box-making exercise, one that left little room for innovation and profits for anyone other than Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT).
With the passing years, Qureshey and AST faded from my memory. All I remembered was that he was one of the first tech entrepreneurs I interviewed for a small New York-based weekly newspaper. The generosity of time he accorded this lowly scribe was a memory that stayed with me.
Today, we reminisced about the go-go years of PC industry when we got together to discuss his new company, Quartics. The naiveté of my youth has been replaced by gray in the temples and the cynicism of middle age. The PC has matured as well, but Qureshey is out to prove that there is life in the aging platform.
His Irvine, Calif.-based chip maker has come up with a range of media co-processing chips that do one simple task – take video signals from your personal computer and make them play back on any television. “Your PC is your IP set top box,” he says.
The chip – it costs around $20 – sits inside a small box (media connector) that is then attached to a TV via cables used to typically connect a DVD player to a television. It has the ability to boost the video signals to match the quality of standard TV signals. (A high-definition version of the chip should be rolling out soon.)
The media connector — it costs between $150 and $200 — comes with a software called Blink, which is installed on a PC. It can then take any type of Internet video signal — streams of Cricket games, Internet videos or “Desperate Housewives” on ABC.com — and send it to a TV via a wireless connection.
A small remote controls the media connector box and allows you to surf and switch the Internet channels on your PC. Blink, which looks like a cross between Joost and Veoh TV, is actually quite clever and simple to use.
While several companies are trying to develop these media connectors — Apple, Microsoft, Divx, Sling, Mediagate — Quartics is primarily a chip company and has no interest in making the boxes. It is backed by the likes of Foundation Capital and Integral Capital Partners and has raised around $35 million in venture backing thus far.
“We are giving away the reference design and software to our partners,” Qureshey says. The company is working with various device makers including Addlogix and Oki to bring these low-cost media connectors to market. It is also working with some Chinese TV makers to embed its chips directly into TV sets as well.
Qureshey points out that TV content makers are embracing streaming over the Internet because it allows them to bypass distribution partners such as cable operators, and instead build an advertising-supported business model. However, Internet-based video needs to come to the big screen. “We are offering the simplest way to bridge the last ten feet problem.”
So far, it has been hard to get Internet video onto the big screen. There have been kludgy attempts including the clumsy Media Center PCs. The Apple TV comes close to an elegant solution, but it’s too limited by access to content.
Quartics’ solution seems like a good idea whose time has come — now all Qureshey has to do is ensure that media connector boxes come to market at a price affordable enough to sell millions of units.