AST Co-founder's Venture to Bridge the PC-TV Gap

15 Comments

qureshey.gifA 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.

quartics_logo.gifToday, 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 The naiveté of my youth has been replaced by gray in the temples and the cynicism of middle age.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.

blink_homepage.gif

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.

15 Comments

Jesse Kopelman

AST Research! The first stock I ever bought. I had to hold it for 2 years, thanks to the post Desert Storm recession, but I sold it for a 20% profit, early in my college days. If only my next purchase hadn’t been a healthcare tech co that was bought by HBOC . . !

Om Malik

Guys the big thing – this is a chip company and they are working with others to get the technology out. nothing to stop cisco or telco partners from buying chips and building their own solutions.

Mobile Shikari 2.5

Isn’t this approach too narrow and a bit dated given how much momentum there is behind the STB/Femtocell approach?

I am certain Qureshey brings a lot of execution muscle but so do the likes of Cisco and its Telco partners who have firmly committed to the STB model to solve multiple home devices problms (notably including telephony in their offerings).

Pandu

This sounds like a great idea. I got rid of my tv last year! But now I want to go back to TV cos the laptop screen kind of limits it. Reading about this device, I might hold off on moving back to TV.

Niraj

While Media Center PCs may be “kludgy,” I don’t see these media connectors replacing them anytime soon because they never seem to offer the complete set of features you’d have through a PC. Whether it’s due to DRM or trying to recreate functionality, they almost always seem to lack features that make them a deal-breaker.

The PC may not look as elegant (though Vista’s media center looks pretty good and can get the job done), but they can do it all. Maybe people just need to learn about Logitech’s Harmony remote :)

GeraldZ

Don’t most laptops already have a built-in television output? I guess the real value in this “box” is the ability to remotely control your PC without having to get your lazy butt off the couch!

Great idea, but it’s value is not eternal. I envision the day when WiMax will blanket the entire nation with high-speed wireless internet. ALL devices will transition to this IP backbone including telephones and televisions. No need for cables, satellites, fiber optic, etc. TV sets will once again be built with rabbit ears – but they’ll be little ones for picking up the WiMax signal.

http://www.InternetTvTalk.com

Dhiren

A very potential area to grow and with apple TV not much of a success, it may just be time for someone else to SHINE!

Werner Ramaekers

The Apple TV comes close to an elegant solution, but it’s too limited by access to content.

That’s just the reason why we have been working on a solution based on AppleTV but making a lot more content available on it, and this using a web application that allows you to create your own channels. We will be releasing our product in the coming days.

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