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Welcoming STB into the digital home

Posted: 03 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:STB trends? digital broadcasting? enhanced video audio?

Last year, the screening of the FIFA World Cup and the Roland Garros and Wimbledon championships in high-definition (HD) video formats brought a big push in worldwide demand for STBs. It is estimated that around 120 million STBs were sold worldwide in 2006, with the market having grown by more than 20 percent compared with 2005.

The upturn in the STB market is set to continue, stimulated by the rapid transition from analog to digital broadcasting that enables both enhanced video and audio experience, and an increased choice of channels. Additional growth is set to be fueled by the deployment of new services beyond TV, such as digital video recorders (DVRs), video-on-demand, video-over-Internet, VoIP telephony, home networking, and connectivity to mobile phones and portable media players.

Recent market trends have shown that STB manufacturers are looking to downsize their development efforts and accelerate time-to-market. Increasingly, they turn to silicon suppliers for complete reference designs, each tailored to a particular market. These reference designs consist of fully laid-out and populated hardware design together with a complete software stack of drivers and middleware.

In 2006, STMicroelectronics introduced the STi7100, the world's first HD single-chip STB IC in 90nm technology. The IC can decode AVC (H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10) content. The latest video-compression technologies use less bandwidth and lower bit rates for producing high-quality video. Numerous STB manufacturers worldwide--including ADB, Motorola/Kreatel, Philips, Sagem, Samsung, Scientific Atlanta/Cisco and Thomson--have manufactured millions of end devices based on these chips that embed all the major functions of STB and the latest video-compression technologies into a single device.

HD in the home
Earlier this year, ST scaled down the geometry of the single-chip MPEG-4 device to 65nm to deliver lower power consumption and competitive pricing. The new HD decoder chip offers some advanced functionality, such as dual HD video decoding, multiple video output, high-speed Ethernet, HDMI and fast USB connectivity.

Numerous manufacturers worldwide have manufactured STBs based on chips that embed all the major functions of STB and the latest video-compression technologies.

Supporting all major video-compression technologies including H.264/AVC, MPEG-2 and VC-1, this highly integrated SoC can be used across all HD markets. It also meets the requirements for both Blu-ray and HD DVD standards, allowing manufacturers to build a single hardware design to address both markets.

The chip can simultaneously decode two HD video streams, enabling the provision of multiple programs without the cost and complexity of two STBs. An embedded high-speed Ethernet modem can distribute the content throughout the home network, allowing viewers to watch HD material on two TV sets, one channel in HD and the other downscaled on-chip to standard definition (SD). In total, video can be output to three independently formatted displays: a full-resolution 1,080p HDTV monitor; a down-sampled display for a personal video recorder or a local SDTV monitor; and a remote SDTV monitor.

Local storage of multimedia content provides TV viewers with new levels of freedom and control. ST's latest HD decoder integrates three full-speed USB ports and dual serial ATA interfaces, enabling consumers to connect external devices such as HDDs or memory cards to turn their TV into a DVR.

DRM is needed
Embedded digital rights management (DRM) and secure connectivity features such as high-bandwidth digital media interface and HD copy protection facilitate transmissions of encrypted content without compromising user convenience for legitimate copying or time-shifting. The chip also supports Windows Media DRM and the Secure Video Processor standards that allow digital rights to be passed between consumer devices.

The mainstream STB market is evolving around unified, single-device platforms that provide basic "zapping" functionality for satellite, cable and digital terrestrial services.

Earlier this year, ST introduced its latest MPEG-2 decoder for SDTV with advanced security and graphics features. The chip integrates the ST20 32bit RISC CPU core, the most widely used CPU in the STB market. This CPU core provides increased power for advanced applications and is fully compatible with all mainstream STB middleware.

Overall performance is further increased by an integrated 2D graphics subsystem that relieves the CPU of on-screen display overhead and provides an enhanced experience for the viewer, such as an enhanced electronic program guide. The decoder uses an innovative "blitter"-based display architecture, which rapidly performs graphics operations in hardware, allowing customers to build attractive user interfaces.

Additional features include DVB descramblers in the transport demux block and copy protection that allow the chip to be used in cost-effective pay-TV services. Support for a single-tuner DVR is also integrated for high-quality time-shifting. The chip also supports the latest security features required by all major conditional access suppliers to protect the customers' content and services. Since 1997, ST's MPEG-2 chips have been designed into more than 350 million end-devices worldwide.

The company's STB efforts are part of its overall strategy for the home entertainment market. Apart from STBs, the chips have been designed in a wide range of integrated DTV sets, and will be available soon in the second-generation universal blue-laser players, ushering in the era of new multimedia experience and advanced interactive services.

Figure: Numerous manufacturers worldwide have manufactured STBs based on chips that embed all the major functions of STB and the latest video-compression technologies.

This article is contributed by STMicroelectronics.

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