THE multimedia revolution, if it can be called that, is not just confined to the computer desktop. In fact, the use of CD technology may become the newest consumer video craze thanks to a chip from US-based C-Cube Microsystems. In today's multimedia PC world, video storage is achieved by the use of compression technology. The most common and standard compression system is MPEG. With the MPEG 1 video compression standard, it is possible to store 74 minutes of VHS-quality video on a single CD. But to produce a video CD player, a series of circuits dedicated to MPEG decompression and also to handle the audio decoding are necessary. Until now this has involved expensive multiple chips, resulting in machines which are not suitable for the consumer market because of their high cost. That is where C-Cube comes in. The company has developed a single-chip solution which handles the video and audio decoding and only requires four megabits of RAM and an NTSC or PAL encoder. The upshot of this one-chip digital signal processor (DSP) is that for only US$50 in additional components an audio CD-player can be turned into a multi-purpose video and audio player. The first member of the PlayCD family of single-chip decoders is the CL480VCD chip. According to Mr Alexandre Balkanski, C-Cube's founder and executive vice-president, it allows companies to produce VideoCD players which can potentially be sold for a very low price. Mr Balkanski said: 'There is no reason these machines can't sell for US$250.' Because there is a decreasing profit margin in the audio CD industry, and due to the high production cost of laser discs, there is apparently great interest in both the electronics and entertainment industries in the potential of this new technology. In fact, at a Japanese electronics show in early October, C-Cube expects several Japanese and Korean electronics companies to announce VideoCD players for the consumer market. Among them will be JVC, Matsushita and Sharp, which will all use the C-Cube chip. The potential for these players appear to be diverse. Because of the ability to incorporate high resolution still frames for titles and game backdrops, along with audio and video CD titles on the same disc, music companies may have the option of changing music videos from promotional items on MTV to revenue generating products. Mr Balkanski expects VideoCD technology to evolve into portable mutliplayers which can be used as audio, video and CD-ROM players which promise to be a big success commercially because they will allow consumers to kill three birds with one stone. In the realm of compression technology, the emerging MPEG 2 standard eventually promises to deliver a higher quality than laser discs with more than a full movie on a single CD. But it is now impossible to reach the consumer price point with MPEG 2 because it needs more memory for decoding and requires the use of a blue diode laser to achieve greater storage on a single disc. At the moment these diodes cannot be cost effectively produced.