Chips Tune In TV
Telegent Systems Inc. , founded in 2004, launched recently with a chip to bring broadcast TV into cellular handhelds. (See Telegent Targets Mobile TV.)
Whether that's a good idea has been an unresolved debate in the mobile industry for years. It all comes down to the key question of what people would want to watch on a handheld: full-length programs or goofy YouTube Inc. snippets. (See CTIA: We Want Our MobileTV.)
Telegent hopes to aid the broadcast-TV argument by bypassing the competing cell-phone standards such as DVB-H and DVB-T. "They don't coexist well. Even within one standard, there's variance," says Sam Sheng, Telegent's CTO.
New standards got developed because regular broadcast TV would eat up too much power on the cell phone. Telegent claims its SureTrak architecture avoids that problem, consuming one-fifth the power of the closest competing chips.
But that's not Telegent's best trick. The company is targeting commuters in Asia as its first end users, so the SureTrak chips were designed to maintain the quality of the received signal even when traveling on high-speed trains -- something little portable TVs were never able to do. "The way the standards were written 50 years ago, they were never designed for mobility," Sheng says.
The magic lies in algorithms designed to keep the signal alive under bad conditions, doing things like compensating for the Doppler effect. "It actually has to sense the motion the receiver is experiencing and kind of undo the impairment the motion causes," Sheng says. "A big chunk of what we do is to try to sense that shift accurately, because if you try to do the shift and you get it wrong, you actually make things worse."
Telegent's idea has its backers; the company's board includes former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Reed Hundt, and its technical advisors include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) executive Mike Volpi.
The company is shipping its first-generation chips to handset manufacturers, with "a handful" of handsets to be available in Asia in time for Christmas, Telegent CEO Weijie Yun says.
Two versions of the chip are available: the TLG1100, supporting just NTSC and PAL, is the one being shipped now. The TLG1130, which adds DVB-H and DVB-T support, is due to start production shipments during the first half of 2007.
"You can't ignore the next-generation standards," Sheng says. "I think compelling content will be provided on those standards."
Telegent employs about 50, split between China and a Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. The company has raised $30 million from investors including Index Ventures , New Enterprise Associates (NEA) , and Walden International Investment Group .
Meanwhile, startup Quartics Inc. is working on another direction -- taking the video available to the PC and displaying it on high-definition TV screens.
Quartics was founded in 2003 by Safi Qureshey, best known as a founder and CEO of PC maker AST Research, and Serjil Ahmed, formerly of Scientific Atlanta and Ortel, which was acquired by Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU).
The idea, obviously, is to present a bigger viewing screen for the video that's becoming more prevalent on the desktop. "Your PC or laptop is becoming more and more of a multimedia machine," Ahmed says. (Although he notes that email looks great on an HDTV screen.)
The trick here wasn't in the technology but in the user interface, because of the many possible interfaces between the TV and the screen -- Ethernet , USB, and WiFi being some of the possibilities. Quartics decided to develop one chip that can handle multiple protocols and automatically detect which one is being used.
Early uses for the chip won't be so glamorous -- Ahmed talks of things like USB computer monitors and wireless projectors. The brass ring, of course, will be to get TV makers interested. Quartics is already talking to "four or five" TV makers including ViewSonic Corp. and Xiamen Overseas Chinese Electronic Co. Ltd. (Xoceco) .
Ahmed says some form of end product with Quartics inside will be available on the Web by the end of the month, and in retail stores in the first quarter of 2007.
Quartics is keeping quiet about itself. Ahmed would only say the company has raised "tens of millions of dollars" in two rounds -- one in late October -- and that the number of employees is somewhere between 20 and 100. Its investors include Enterprise Partners Venture Capital and Foundation Capital .
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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