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Company Promotes Way to Distribute Software Through TV Signal

June 15, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ A computer catalog company, looking for new ways to distribute software, has improved a method of sending computer data through TV signals.

The development announced Thursday raises the prospect that a TV station can cost-effectively wed regular TV programming with extra data that would arrive in the home computer.

For instance, a station broadcasting a baseball game could transmit to your home computer a batter’s statistics when he steps up to the plate. Or an advertiser could send out a coupon at the moment a commercial is on.

The practice, sometimes called ``data broadcasting,″ is already a business for PBS, which sends data on behalf of several companies through the signals of its 258 stations nationwide.

The latest improvement comes from a Keene, N.H.-based company called En Technology, which has created an inexpensive, accessory card for personal computers to receive the data directly instead of through special receivers attached to a TV. The card will cost less than $100 and be available in stores this fall.

En Technology is owned by Patricia Gallup and David Hall, who also own PC Connection Inc., one of the nation’s largest computer catalog operations.

Their aim was to perfect a way to distribute software to a broad audience and they plan to use their technology with another company they’ve started, PCTV Inc., which produces ``Computer Chronicles″ on PBS and six cable TV shows about computers.

But their work may accelerate other possibilities for combining TV shows with data that can be accessed by personal computers, now found in 39 percent of the nation’s households.

``We’ve set up a business model where everybody participates,″ Gallup said.

The company relies on a part of the TV signal called the vertical blanking interval, or VBI, to carry the computer data. The VBI is the black bar seen when a TV picture starts to roll vertically. It represents 21 of the 525 lines that comprise a TV screen today and is generally above the frame of a screen.

Most TV stations use one line of the VBI to transmit captions for the hearing-impaired - which, unlike the software data, are shown on the television screen. The receiver that translates the captions, which amount to a fraction of the information En Technology believes can be transmitted, has become a standard component in TVs.

In addition to the receiving card for consumers, En Technology said it can provide TV stations with a $1,000 PC to attach to their video transmitters for sending data.

The major networks tried using the VBI to transmit supplemental information in the early 1980s but the efforts failed chiefly because both transmitting and receiving equipment was expensive.

Now that PCs have become common, they may be used to decode and process the information from the signals.

``Broadcasters are looking for ways to find other sources of revenue and this might be one of them,″ said Jay Trager, chief operating officer of National Datacast, the PBS unit that sends financial and programming data for several companies through its VBI signals.

``We’re taking a portion of underutilized bandwidth and developing revenue out of it,″ he said.

Macrovision Corp., a Mountain View, Calif.-based company, several years ago perfected a way to prevent pre-recorded videotapes from being duplicated illegally by putting data in the VBI.

``If someone tries to tape, depending on the machine, they get a scrambled picture, black and white frames, a vertical roll,″ said Bill Krepick, senior vice president at Macrovision.

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