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Startup integrates DVB-T tuner tasks

Posted: 16 Sep 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dvb-t tuner? rf magic?

Late-stage startup RF Magic Inc. has taken virtually all the circuitry required for a DVB-T tuner and integrated it onto an 8-by-8mm quad flat no-lead IC.

In doing so, the company has edged closer to its goal of dominating the consumer digital entertainment arena by opening up potential applications for DVB-T in personal video recorders, laptops, PDAs and cellphones.

RF Magic's emphasis is on developing RF systems SoC technology for consumer broadband applications. For that, it has raised $40 million to date. "We make it easy for designers to adapt RF in their consumer designs," said Rick Beale, company's VP of marketing and sales.

RF Magic has had some success with band translation switches, which allow the multiplexing of multiple satellite signals over a single coaxial cable, as well as broadband wireless RF front-ends, now being targeted at WiMAX. One of its biggest successes, however, is the STB6000 line of satellite tuners, which it co-developed with STMicroelectronics and which the latter company now manufactures and sells.

For the RF4000 line of DVB-T tuner chips, RF Magic has tapped Jazz Semiconductor as its partner. "We wanted to bring satellite simplicity to TV tuners," said Beale. That required getting rid of traditional "canned" tuners, which typically measure 1.5inches x 3inches and are up to a quarter-inch thick, he said.

To do so, RF Magic leveraged Jazz's SiGe BiCMOS technology and its own deep bench of experienced RF designers to integrate the complete tuning function into an 8mm x 8mm QFN package. The chip uses a direct-conversion architecture and includes the voltage-controlled oscillator, LNA, all front-end channel filtering, gain control, mixers and synthesizers. All in all, approximately 30 surface-mount components are required to complete the tuning function.

The analog output is then fed to separate demodulator and decoding circuits.

The RF4000 incorporates up to 13 patented techniques that apply to functions such as tracking filters, voltage-controlled oscillators and synthesizers, said Beale.

One key attribute is that the shrunken tuner keeps exactly the same interfaces and levels of programmability as the typical two-chip "can" design, said Grant Hulse, product manager for RF Magic's tuner line. "It's not a complete break, but it's an evolutionary move," he said.

Preserving the interfaces and programmability levels of the old can units, said Beale, lets designers put the new tuner chip "right down on the motherboard." In the case of PVRs, for example, this makes feasible dual, triple or even quad tuner designs, he said.

Next up, RF Magic plans a Q4 release for a chip that will target ATSC-based DTV terrestrial broadcasts in North America. DVB-T is used primarily in Europe and other regions such as South America. Beale believes that ATSC will take off in the next few years as U.S. Federal Communications Commission rulings dictate the cessation of analog broadcasts.

- Patrick Mannion

EE Times

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