Broadcom relaunches its Crystal HD technology

Same solution for another generation of underpowered netbooks

ISN’T IT GREAT when a technology company relaunches technology that no one really cared about the first time around? Broadcom has reannounced its Crystal HD video decoder solution for entry level notebooks and netbooks that lacks the graphics oomph to play HD video content, despite the uninspiring uptake last time around. So far there are only two netbooks on the market that ever got fitted with a Crystal HD module and only one of those is entering retail.

The idea behind the Crystal HD video decoder makes sense in as much as it’s a dedicated solution for offloading the CPU when it comes to processing intensive tasks like playing back HD video to free it up for other tasks. However, this has been done by both AMD/ATI and Nvidia in the GPU for quite some time now and it’s only Intel’s lack of a sufficiently good graphics solution in its new Atom processors that allows Broadcom to continue to peddle its Crystal HD video decoders.

If Intel had bothered listening to what its customers wanted for once, the new Atom platform wouldn’t be having issues with simple things like playing back a YouTube HD video. But alas, we’re still stuck with more or less useless integrated graphics in the Atom processors. Despite this we can’t see a lot of netbook manufacturers rushing to sign contracts with Broadcom, as the single netbook that made it to retail, which happened to be from HP, didn’t really seem to be all that popular in the first place.

Despite its merits, it seems like Broadcom is still having issues with Flash support, despite the fact that the company is promising support for Flash 10.1 in its press release. Netbooked did a test using the latest version of Flash 10.1 and found that beta 2 of Flash 10.1 didn’t play ball with the Crystal HD video decoder card. There’s also very little support from video playback software vendors at this stage, despite Broadcom’s spin about a wide range of codecs support. It doesn’t matter how many codecs the hardware solution supports if the playback software doesn’t play ball with it.

Things will hopefully improve and Broadcom claims support from Asus, Dell and Samsung this time around. It will be interesting to see if this means more than a single product line from each of the manufacturers. One could easily presume that Dell will offer the Crystal HD card as an optional add-on, as this would give the customer the choice to pay up of they want HD video support on their netbook. On the other hand, as long as we’re stuck with 1024×600 and 1366×768 displays on netbooks and no digital video output, does HD video playback really matter?S|A

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