Broadcom Breaks Out HD-DTA Chipset

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has taken the wraps off a key chipset that could enable cable operators to deliver high-definition TV signals to analog TVs using a new class of low-cost, one-way Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices.

Broadcom's entry is the BCM7572, a system-on-chip (SoC) with an integrated 1GHz cable tuner, HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) capabilities, and an HD MPEG-2/AVC decoder. (See Broadcom Chips in for HD-DTAs.)

Broadcom is the first chip firm to market with such a product, but it will soon have some company, as Zoran Corp. (Nasdaq: ZRAN) is producing a similar type of chipset.

Broadcom silicon is already powering millions of standard-definition DTAs that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and other MSOs are using in support of analog reclamation strategies, which aim to free up capacity for more high-definition and Docsis 3.0 services.

Comcast, by far the most aggressive with this strategy, has already installed more than 4.5 million DTAs so far, according to comments made by Brian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, at the Citi Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference on Wednesday. It's expected that Comcast will require more than 25 million DTAs to complete the project. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan .)

Regarding security, Broadcom noted that the new HD-DTA chipset supports "a wide range of card and cardless security devices." Its SD-DTA chipset doesn't support a full conditional access system but comes integrated with a relatively weaker security platform called "privacy mode."

Programming flowing through the device then runs "in the clear" (free of encryption) unless Privacy Mode is activated via a firmware upgrade. A recent spate of device waivers from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will allow the use of privacy mode and sidestep a ban on integrated security that went into effect in July 2007. (See Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional , Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven', and The Waiver Wire.)

A Broadcom spokeswoman wouldn't specifically say if the new chip would also handle privacy mode at the start, but confirmed that the product would support "similar security features" to Broadcom's standard-def version.

Broadcom said it's sampling the chip to some unnamed cable set-top makers. The most likely candidates include Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Pace Micro Technology , and Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), which are already using Broadcom's SD-DTA chipset.

Several other box makers, including Coship Electronics Co. Ltd. , EchoStar Technologies LLC, Evolution Broadband LLC , Homecast Co. Ltd. , Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Humax Co. Ltd. , and Rinatto, have all expressed interest in developing HD-DTAs as well.

CableOne is the only MSO so far to obtain a limited FCC waiver for the use of an HD-DTA with embedded security, receiving clearance to try it out in its Dyersburg, Tenn., system.

Evolution, meanwhile, is trying to secure a waiver for a new line of lower-cost HD devices but is still evaluating silicon, according to president Brent Smith. (See Cable ONE Snares HD Set-Top Waiver and Evolution Guns for HD Box Waiver .)

Broadcom hasn't released pricing on the new HD chip, though it intends to start volume shipments before the end of this year, "pending FCC waivers for HD-based DTAs," the company spokeswoman noted.

However, we do have a pretty good fix on how much MSOs will be willing to pay for the devices themselves. CableOne disclosed last November that it's looking for vendor partners to create simple hi-def channel zappers that can be had for less than $50 each. Standard-def DTAs cost about $35 apiece, a price kept low in part because they aren't encumbered with CableCARD-based security. (See Cable ONE Seeks $50 HD Box.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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