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Industry guru talks about digital entertainment

Posted: 02 Oct 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:STMicroelectronics? ST? Bob Krysiak? digital entertainment? STB?

Krysiak: Mobile TV will rely on the right content, services and infrastructure.

STMicroelectronics (ST) becoming Greater China's No. 1 IC supplier is the goal of Bob Krysiak, the company's corporate VP and general manager for the region. Krysiak has been working in the personal and home entertainment electronics industry for many years and has witnessed the development of the global digital-video technology from the beginning.

At ST's back-end IC factory in Shenzhen, Krysiak recalled the development of the first single-chip MPEG-2 decoder ICs. He also discussed his ideas on the development of digital entertainment equipment in China.

EE Times-China:You have a very strong background in both STB and DTV technologies.
Bob Krysiak: I have a great deal of experience in designing chips for digital consumer applications, specifically for STB systems. For many years, I also specialized in 32bit CPU development.

MPEG began in 1992. Before 1994, cabled broadcast or satellite used MPEG for broadcasts. At that time, I was researching and developing STB chips, resulting in the first Omega platform for STMicroelectronics.

Together with Thomson RCA of France, we conducted research on the first type of single-chip MPEG-2 decoder for DirecTV in the United States. It should be considered as the first landmark in the history of STB development. I personally researched and developed the programmable transport part of the decoder. I was responsible for the demultiplexing and decoding of the transport data stream from the satellite. We then integrated the MPEG-2 decoder, along with the ST20 CPU into a single Omega chip. It was the product that paved the way for the development of the current STBs and DTVs.

Thereafter, we were engaged in DVD development, where similar chip architectures were used. The MPEG decoders and the CPU architectures were very similar. Our philosophy was to use this architecture across all digital decoding platforms, including satellite, cable, terrestrial and DVD products.

The demands for many different A/V standards required a very flexible decoder. This was something we had to consider very carefully during the architecture's development and would affect not just the chip hardware, but also the system software.

How would you describe DTV development in China?
At present, the government is busy carrying out DTV-related deployments and trials. There is a huge push to transition from analog to digital broadcasting, and deployments in digital cable TV are growing rapidly. In satellite and mobile DTV, the government has authorized some significant trials to prepare for deployments soon. We expect the 2008 Olympic games to provide a catalyst for both HD and SD cable TV. The government also has plans to implement IPTV. In fact, IPTV experiments have been carried out in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Our understanding is that many local and large electrical equipment manufacturers intend to enter the IPTV market. A well-known company in China is already in production using the HD IPTV technology developed with ST's local design teams. Currently, its products are mainly sold to other countries, but it's well-prepared for when IPTV is approved.

Satellite TV will be the final broadcast activity that the government will engage in. We have participated in all activities related to cable DTV, but satellite broadcast is what concerns me most. The realization of satellite will face some obstacles. The cost of satellite TV will be high to begin with, and we must work to reduce the cost of STBs once deployment begins. Moreover, I think the mode of satellite broadcast could represent big competition for some cable TV operators.

Today, consumers in China are accustomed to watching free TV, but once the basic digital transition is over, consumers will want to watch pay-TV programs with enhanced quality and advanced features leading to richer content and more services.

The cable STB introduced in China has yet to mature!it is still in the process of development. With the development of DTV in all its forms, China's STB market will grow very quickly and will become one of the biggest markets in China.

What efforts have you made so far to support China's A/V Standard (AVS)?
We've been working for a long time with the AVS Alliance, who is responsible for A/V encoding and decoding in China. We have a research team called Advanced System Technology group based in Beijing and Shanghai. They've been working on a compression technology together with the AVS group in Beijing.

We are very interested in satellite broadcasting!it's where we started in this market. Once the government permits the deployment of satellite broadcasting systems under the AVS standard, we can immediately provide products for decoding.

With the establishment of HDTV in China, our R&D center in Shenzhen is also working on both SD and HD DTV chips using very advanced decoders.

DTV presents an excellent opportunity for local companies in China. The problems related to decoding and transmission equipment have been solved, and many local enterprises are engaged in the development of solutions. Many local chip suppliers lack some key technologies particularly in the area of security and protection for the broadcasters and operators.

What do you think of mobile TV's development in China?
Mobile TV is certainly a hot topic for discussion. Almost all countries in which we do business are talking about mobile TV. The biggest obstacles confronting mobile TV deployments are not with the equipment or end terminals, but the new infrastructure necessary for mobile TV. This will require a big investment. Thus, I think that the trials being carried out by China's government in several cities are an important part of the strategy. Through tests being carried out in key cities, the problems of commercial business models and investments are being discovered. I do believe, however, that people, particularly the youth, will be willing to pay for mobile TV services.

The development of mobile TV will rely on the right content, services and infrastructure. Content and services will rely on the right and most attractive business model. This is the key for mobile TV!forgetting the technical problems for one moment. In fact, techniques for mobile TV are not complicated. The real problems lie in the commercial model and infrastructure, and this is true in all parts of the globe.

Besides the digital entertainment field, what are ST's other areas of development in China?
In telecoms, we and our partners are working on 3G solutions for both infrastructure (base stations) and terminals. We also provide some WiMAX-capable infrastructure products and have been working in some new and interesting areas, such as flexible processors that support multistandard wireless infrastructure products.

We are also concerned with mobile computers!the non-MPU business. Our focus is on advanced applications processors, the Nomadik. There is accelerated development of Nomadik's applications in China. Applications that support services for mobile TV, advanced portable music and video players, and other kinds of portable or media service are expected to grow rapidly in the country. These applications are increasing in complexity while requiring less power and lower cost, which to us is a real technical challenge. Thus, we are compelled to assure high performance and energy savings.

One application that came as a pleasant surprise was the E-Bike. No other place can achieve China's 9-million-sets-per-year sale of E-Bike. One of the major technical challenges, however, is the battery lifespan. If this can increase significantly, sales will grow even faster, and the product!along with its associated electronics!will be better for the environment.

What is your view of the local IC industry? Is it competitive enough?
Members of China's IC industry have very good technical background and production skills. I think their biggest challenges are to develop products with real added value and to go beyond the chip foundry business. To do these, they will have to identify their markets and formulate sound business strategies, and collaborate with partners such as design houses or other IDMs like ST. By doing these, they will improve their design skills and be able to develop products with improved features and performance. This is the only way to survive.

- Vivian Tang
EE Times-China

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