AMD has developed a low-power chip that it thinks will make portable video players more compelling by reducing the time needed to transfer content to the devices. The company is expected to announce the chip at CES (the International Consumer Electronics Show) this week.

Portable video players with the new Alchemy Au1200 processor will play Mpeg files recorded by digital video recorders, eliminating the need for users to change those files to a different format, a spokeperson says.

AMD has designed a reference platform for manufacturers that includes the chip and media player software, and the company expects devices to emerge in the second quarter of this year.

Handheld video players such as the Portable Media Center (PMC) devices championed by Microsoft are fairly new. At last year's CES, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates demonstrated a prototype handheld device that could store and play videos, and early versions are now showing up on the market. Creative Technology's Creative Zen PMC is one of the new products to generate a buzz among consumer electronics fans, even at £340.

Most of the video content recorded on digital video recorders or available from online content providers is recorded in file formats such as Mpeg4 or DivX. These formats produce images of excellent quality but are not supported by devices running Microsoft's Windows Mobile media software because of the size of the files.

In order to play those files, the Windows Media Player software must convert them into the Windows Media Video (WMV) format, which can take almost as much time as it takes to watch the content. For example, a 30-minute television show would take about 30 minutes to convert from the Mpeg2 format to the WMV format.

Devices with AMD's chips can play Mpeg2, Mpeg4, WMV9 and DivX files without having to run those files through a PC AMD’s spokesperson says. This means consumers can use their Au1200-based PMCs with digital video recorders and transfer their favourite television shows in far less time than it takes to transcode those shows on a Media Center PC. The devices would probably plug right into the digital video recorders through a USB (universal serial bus) connection.

This will appeal to busy workers looking to download shows they missed the night before to watch on the train or bus during the morning commute. It also better suits consumers without well-honed technology instincts, the spokesperson says.

There are differing opinions and strategies as to how consumers will want to create the digital media libraries of the future. Some companies believe the PC has the processing power and storage capacity needed to run a home media network, while others think that DVRs such as TiVo devices are easier to use and more adaptable than PCs.

The Au1200 chip is based on core technology licensed from MIPS Technologies. It can run at 500MHz, supports DDR2 (double data rate 2) RAM and consumes about 500mW of power during typical usage. Other processors for PMCs use a digital signal processor to handle some of the video encoding and decoding, but AMD have built that capability right into the processor in order to save power and improve performance.