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Broadcom gears 40nm for HD handsets

Posted: 22 Dec 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Broadcom 40nm? media processor? HD video handset? Wi-Fi?

Broadcom Corp. announced it is sampling its first 40nm chip, a cellphone media processor capable of recording full 1080-progressive high-definition video. The news came at the company's annual meeting with Wall Street analysts, where it claimed to be poised for a return to profitable growth that will outpace its markets.

Supporting its financial claims, Broadcom said it expects revenues up five percent over its previous quarter and gross margins twice as high as previously projected, thanks to an uptick in demand for its broadband and enterprise networking chips. It had previously estimated flat sales over the prior quarter.

Through the recession Broadcom laid off about three percent of staff compared to competitors that let go as many as ten percent, said Eric Brandt, Broadcom's chief financial officer. He estimated the company was about three percent down in sales overall for the year compared to 14 percent for the chip sector.

"We conclude we gained market share," said Brandt.

Analysts such as Mark McKechnie of Broadpoint AmTech discounted the upgraded forecast. In a statement, McKechnie noted Broadcom's original projection was conservative. Companies in similar markets including Atheros, Intel, Marvell and Texas Instruments have recently guided projections up from two to 12 percent for the quarter, he added.

Separately, Broadcom executives said they expect new digital TVs with integrated Wi-Fi at next month's Consumer Electronics Show. Models capable of stereo 3D graphics could follow next year for as little as $100 in additional component costs, they added.

The company also announced an integrated chip to drive down costs of Blu-ray disk players and an ARM11-based device for portable media players.

HD cellphones
The star of the day was Broadcom's VideoCore IV, the BCM2763, packs 1080p video recording and playback, a 20Mpixel digital camera and Gpixel graphics into the power envelope of a cellphone. It consumes 490mW while encoding video at H.264 High Profile rates and 160mW for 1080p playback.

Supplied with enough memory, the chip can support up to six hours of full HD video recording and up to 12 hours of HD playback, Broadcom said. It is an upgrade of an existing 65nm device that supports 720p resolution video.

"We think phones will start to be HD camcorders," said Scott Bibaud, general manager of Broadcom's mobile group.

He was less bullish on the transition to next-generation Long Term Evolution which will upgrade the bandwidth of cellular nets to handle HD video transfers. "LTE doesn't get interesting until 2012, and by interesting I mean 50 million units/year," he said.

The VideoCore IV uses a low-power 40nm process. Broadcom also taped out in 2009 an unannounced but fully functional Ethernet chip using a 40nm general purpose process, said Neil Kim, VP of operations and central engineering at the company.

"It is extremely challenging because they are two distinct processes," said Kim, noting the company has 5,000 standard cells and 1,444 analog and RF cores already in its 40nm silicon library. "This will raise the barrier to entry for our competitors getting into 40nm," he said.


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