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Microtune samples 3-in-1 tuner chip

Posted: 01 May 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Microtune? DTV tuner? MT2131? In-Stat? XXX?

Microtune is sampling a three-in-one silicon TV tuner that it bills as the industry's first. The single chip can reliably receive traditional over-air analog TV, over-air DTV and cable TV signals, the company said.

Microtune president and chief executive officer James Fontaine said the MT2131 tuner is "the only devicemodule or siliconto fully support both analog and DTV transmissions across either cable or terrestrial broadcasts," adding that the introduction fulfills the charter on which the company was founded in the late 1990s. By eliminating more than 100 components from the bill-of-materials (BOM), Fontaine said, the tuner cuts RF chip cost by 60 percent.

The MT2131 is scheduled for production in Q4 2006 at IBM Microelectronics on IBM's SiGe process. It will sell for roughly $3 in volume.

The Microtune move anticipates the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline by which all U.S. analog TV broadcasts would end under legislation awaiting the President's signature. Beyond TVs, such consumer products as DVD recorders and PVRs would be affected by the pending mandate to incorporate over-air digital tuners. While the legislation would create a $990 million program to subsidize consumer purchases of converter boxes, the units would still need to be very inexpensive.

Complicating the DTV transition in the United States, multiple terrestrial and cable broadcast standards are expected to coexist for years. That will force manufacturers to devise products that can receive not only over-air digital and analog signals, but cable signals as well.

In-Stat predicts the shipment of CE systems with ATSC-compliant DTV tuners will jump from 12 million units in 2005 to 57 million in 2009.

Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst at In-Stat, listed FreeScale, Broadcom, Conexant and Texas Instruments as Microtune's competitors in silicon tuners. LG (under the Zenith brand) and ATI Technologies (including NxtWave) are strong players in ATSC DTV demodulators, he said.

While a traditional, single canned tuner can be "told" whether to tune in over-air signals or analog cable, such a product typically needs a bridge device that permits the tuner output to feed into different demodulators, said Kaufhold. Microtune and its competitors make bridge devices that allow one tuner to serve multiple demodulators, he said.

Accomplishing three-in-one tuning in silicon is no mean feat, said Microtune's Fontaine, because of the "diabolically opposed ways" cable and over-air TV spectra are set up. Since over-air signals are broadcast in a broad spectrum with larger intervals between channels, the tuner is required to improve its sensitivity to receive weak signals from afar. It also must deal with adjacent-channel interference. In contrast, cable-TV channels are much more tightly packed in a close spectrum, but offer virtually no interference, as they are all broadcast at the same power level.

Simply put, a tuner optimized for the cable world is unsuitable for over-air TV reception. Microtune last year developed an all-in-one tuner for Samsung, the MT2121, which added close to 100 componentsall related to the over-air BOMaround a cable silicon tuner. In December, Samsung began shipping 12 HDTV models, ranging from plasma displays to CRT-based DTVs, incorporating the MT2121.

In developing the MT2131, Microtune eliminated the additional components to make a single-chip, multifunction tuner.

Microtune also focused on quality issues with the MT2131, since "it's the tuner that actually sets the quality of the TV signal," said Fontaine.

A Federal Communications Commission report issued in December includes a review of DTV receiver performance across products and price ranges. It concludes that "there is no relationship between the ability of currently available TV receivers to receive over-air signals and the price of those receivers."

In-Stat's Kaufhold noted that "since 1998, the U.S. DTV transition has been marred by complaints from broadcasters and consumers that the DTV signal specified by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) does not work as well as expected." Those complaints include TV picture breakup from interference, picture "freezing" and outright picture loss.

None of the digital receivers reviewed by the FCC were found to meet the A74 standard for digital sensitivity specified by the ATSC. Microtune claims its new tuner clears the A74 standard by wide margins in all areas, including adjacent-channel rejection, digital sensitivity and dynamic range. The tuner also clears all the digital-cable-ready specifications, Fontaine said.

Building on the Samsung design win, he said, Microtune expects to sign two high-profile deals this year and as many as five in 2007.

- junko yoshida
EE Times




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