Chips Tune In TV
Not surprisingly, then, a clutch of chip startups is emerging to tackle the TV question, finding new ways of spreading video around. Recent announcements have targeted the cable network, mobile devices, and the personal computer.
Cable: going digital
Chip startup BroadLogic Network Technologies Inc. announced on Monday the sampling of a chip that it claims could help speed up cable operators' transition to digital networks, while also freeing up bandwidth that could be used for new services and, presumably, more revenues. (See BroadLogic Unveils New Chip.)
BroadLogic already sells chips to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) for cable modems. (See BroadLogic, Cisco Team Up.) Its new TeraPix is more ambitious, though. The chip is intended to be at the heart of a residential gateway, probably sitting outside the home, that processes all digital and analog channels.
That's in contrast to the set-top box, which handles one channel at a time, requiring one set-top per television set. TeraPix lets all TVs feed from one gateway -- and it can convert all the digital channels to analog, meaning the home doesn't have to be ready for digital cable.
This means cable operators can migrate their networks to digital transmission without forcing customers to upgrade to digital gear.
Former Charter Communications Inc. CTO Wayne Davis, who was first contacted by BroadLogic more than two years ago and sits on the chip firm's advisory board, believes the company's approach is unique.
"Now all of the TV sets work in the home without having to have a set-top box," Davis says. "This lets us essentially manage a whole home with this one chip."
Moreover, the shift to all-digital frees up bandwidth for the cable operator. The cable slate includes a pack of 80 analog channels -- operators don't dare shift those to digital because they'd leave behind the customers who haven't upgraded their TVs. Those 80 channels take up 500 MHz of cable's RF spectrum.
Because BroadLogic lets the operator safely shift to all-digital, those 80 channels can be sent in digital format, too, squashing them down to 50 MHz of spectrum -- freeing up about 450 MHz that could be used for additional digital services.
And bandwidth does matter to the cable operators. The move to digital has boosted cable's spectrum, giving operators 750 MHz, or in some cases 860 MHz, to play with. But that's already not enough. "It's gotten to the point where the spectrum is fairly well full," Davis says.
BroadLogic has two cable operators "working very closely with us" on TeraPix, CEO Danial Faizullabhoy says, but of course he's not revealing any names.
TeraPix is the end result of a $20 million funding round BroadLogic picked up in 2004, Faizullabhoy says. All told, the 30-person company has raised $30 million. (See BroadLogic Lands $20 Million in Funding .)
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