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Microsoft TV gains IC support

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

Keywords:junko yoshida? microsoft? wischip international. iptv? internet protocol? tv?

WISchip International Ltd has become the second chipmaker, after Sigma Designs Inc., to announce support for Microsoft Corp.s Internet Protocol TV software platform, as the Redmond giant attempts to secure a market toehold for its Microsoft TV IPTV Edition.

WISchips DeCypher 8100 chip is tailored to support high-definition decoding of the h.264, vc-1 and MPEG-2 formats.

Microsoft publicly singled out Sigma Designs at the IBC2005 Conference in Amsterdam as the first silicon vendor to release a chip optimized for the IPTV Edition platform. But Wischip, armed with its first working silicon, was also on hand at IBC, demonstrating its chip to prospective customers under the auspices of Microsoft.

Wischip says its chip supports multiple digital rights management (DRM) and networking schemes in addition to enabling high-definition A/V decoding.

Similarly, Sigma Designs claims that its secure media processor architectureused in the SMP8630offers advanced content protection that supports various DRM and conditional-access solutions.

According to industry observers, however, neither Sigma Designs nor WISchip was on Microsofts dance card when the software giant launched its IPTV platform project late last year and called for silicon vendors to support its vision.

One challenge facing many successful MPEG-2 decoder chipmakers, including STMicroelectronics, Broadcom and Conexant, is setting priorities: Should they devote engineering resources to satisfy current customers who are looking to upgrade their systems, or should they commit to new ventures like Microsofts IPTV platform, which carries the market power of Microsoft, but is undeployed and largely unproven?

Moreover, chips for Microsofts IPTV software must contain a myriad of bells and whistles, including advanced features such as high definition with picture-in-picture; higher security when connected to other devices; mandatory support for Microsofts DRM scheme; and support for VC-1, which is derived from Microsofts Windows Media Video 9 codec. That is a lot to cram onto one chip.

Timely design flow counts

But perhaps the biggest problem for many in the consumer chip industry today, noted Jim Nguyen, director of marketing at WISchip, is, How do you do your next chip in a timely manner?

Even a chip developer that already has well-proven blocks for MPEG-2 decode and encode has no guarantees that it can get all the requisite blocks to work well, especially when the growing slate of new codecs and features is added to the mix, Nguyen observed.

WISchip, founded in 1998, is no stranger to the MPEG world. The company has already launched two chips capable of MPEG-1/2/4 encoding and decoding.

How much faster you can come up with your second and third chip is becoming a critical issue now, said Nguyen.

Thats where WISchip hopes to differentiate itself, he said. We have a design flow that allows us to do software development and verification seven to 10 months before tape-out.

Nguyen said that Jim Mannos, WISchips CEO, was the brains behind that design flow, allowing the company to do hardware and software co-simulation to speed up time-to-market.

Prior to joining WISchip, Mannos, an expert in broadband communications, was co-founder and VP of engineering at Maverick Networks, a switching startup purchased by Broadcom.

Another key individual at WISchip is Shuhua Xiang, the companys VP of engineering. Xiang, an expert in video compression, together with a team of research engineers at Xinhua University in China, brings a lot of credibility to WISchip in its audio and video compression capabilities, Nguyen said.

WISchip is highlighting the ability of the DeCypher 8100 to handle a broad range of content-protection schemes, including Content Scrambling System descrambling for DVDs; self-protecting digital content for Blu-ray Disc; the Advanced Access Content System for HD-DVD; the Data Encryption Standard/Triple DES at 64bits; the Advanced Encryption Standard at 128-, 192- or 256bits; and Microsoft block cipher.

The chip integrates a special hardware block to handle encryption and decryption. A dedicated processor on the chip handles key transfers.

While many content-protection schemes use similar underlying encryption and decryption technologies, the ways in which they negotiate their key transfers are different, Nguyen said.

Sigma Designs has also beefed up the security features in its SMP8630. To handle DRM, the company added a special secure CPU that runs at 200MHz and is separate from the devices main, 300MHz MIPS CPU.

Outgoing content protection

WISchips Nguyen said that all content going out of its chip will be encrypted or scrambled. The inclusion of that extra security measure addressed complaints from content owners that the content going from a decoder chip to an external memory travels in the clear.

All these security features are considered necessities now. Certainly, a theme I have heard over and over is that although it is technically possible to move content among devices, little will happen until content owners are convinced it will be protected, said Michelle Abraham, a senior analyst with In-Stat. Today, each device has its own system, but none of them interoperate with other systems.

WISchips first target for the DeCypher 8100 will be the IPTV set-top market. The company hopes to address requirements for boxes capable of both streaming A/V and ATSC or DVB DTV broadcast reception. Indeed, said Nguyen, WISchip needs to develop such a combo box just to get in the market. IP streaming is becoming a check box feature for many consumer electronics products in the existing market, he said.

WISchip plans to extend its product line to the HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats in the future. The companys platform supports Linux and Windows CE.

The DeCypher chip is being fabricated for WISchip by foundry partner United Microelectronics Corp. using 0.13m process technology.

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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