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Improving Its Cable 'Image'

Jeff Baumgartner

5:20 PM -- When given 11 demos from which to choose, cable engineering execs were most keyed up about a "micro-client" architecture under way at Silicon Image Inc. that will enable cable operators to distribute video applications (and even render their interactive program guides and set-top user interfaces) to multiple TVs hanging off a home network.

Silicon Image's IP-powered demo was deemed the "Best New Product Idea" at the CableLabs Summer Conference, taking place this week in Keystone, Colo. Although these confabs are traditionally closed to the press, CableLabs has historically given us wretches a handout by publicizing the results of these tech competitions. In February, Ruckus Wireless Inc. got cable kudos for its wireless video platform. (See Ruckus Rules.)

The chip and software tied to Silicon Image's new digital connectivity technology will be sampling by the fourth quarter of 2008, according to Steve Tirado, president and CEO of the fabless semiconductor, which, among other things, is known for its role in the development of the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI).

He envisions the technology being incorporated into digital TV sets or "lite" set-top boxes. There's no absolute word on the costs, but Tirado believes chips should sell in the range of $8 to $10 per unit. That's a far cry from the $200 or so it costs today for TV manufacturers to bake in support for tru2way . (See What Is tru2way's True Potential? )

Silicon Image's approach would mean that some -- but not necessarily all -- TVs and set-tops would have to support the full tru2way platform in order to run some tru2way applications. A user interface developed for the tru2way environment, for example, could be sent remotely to a TV or box that uses Silicon Image's system. Silicon Image's concept would be "complementary" to tru2way, Charter Communications Inc. chief technology officer Marwan Fawaz noted.

Tirado said the technology, which will be promoted as an open standard, aims to be agnostic from a physical layer standpoint, meaning it will work with a wide range of wireless and wired home networking technologies, including Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) , Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) , Ethernet, WiFi, and powerline-based systems.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) EVP and CTO Tony Werner said Silicon Image's technology is coming along at a "timely point" as the number of TVs and other consumer-facing devices capable receiving video over an IP network continues to explode. "There's a lot of hope for technology like this," he said of Silicon Image's demo.

Although Silicon Image's core technology could be used to fuel multi-room DVRs, that's not necessarily its killer app. "Getting all our content, including our applications, [would be] absolutely key," Werner said.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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