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ST sees hope in TV chip business with ARM-based DTV platform

Posted: 25 May 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TV chip? ARM-based? DTV platform?

The semiconductor market segmentspecifically most chipmakers in the Westsees very little excitement and income opportunity in the STB and digital TV businesses. Much of this pessimism stems from the solid grip of Taiwanese IC vendors such as MediaTek and Mstar on China's CE OEMs and ODMs, whose growing chip demand is fully served by these Taiwan firms.

Look no further than the struggling financials of Trident Microsystems and Zoran Corp. in recent quarters.

But of course, for Broadcom, this is a very different story. Geneva-based STMicroelectronics, keeping up its competitive position against Broadcom, also sees an upside for digital TVincluding Internet-connected TVs and 3D TVs.

During the company's Investor and Analyst Day, DTV was one of several products identified by STMicroelectronics CEO Carlo Bozzoti as keys to "the top-line evolution" of its automotive, consumer, computer and communications infrastructure (ACCI) business. Others singled out by Bozzoti as driving forces for growth and profitability include: ST's 32bit MCU (based on Power architecture) for automotives; ST-developed royalty-free displayport; and computer peripheral chips.

Actions taken by ST for its turnaround efforts over the past few years include a review of its product portfolio, a focused approach on R&D and manufacturing restructuring, according to Bozzoti.

While the company's digital convergence mantra sounds almost outdated (everyone has been saying it for the last 15 years), one thing ST has done well is to execute the genuine "digital convergence" of intellectual properties and SoC blocks developed by different groups of the companyin particular, ST-Ericsson's apps processor development team and ST's home entertainment and display (HED) group.

Switching from ST40 to ARM
The HED group, headed by Philippe Lambinet, ST's senior executive vice president, is switching its processing core from ST40 (based on the SH4 core originally developed by Hitachi) to ARM in its Gen 4 platform designed for open Internet-connected TV. While the Gen 4 is scheduled for 2012 rollout, the bulk of this core work of porting to ARM has already been carried out by ST-Ericsson, not by Lambinet's team.

ST-Ericsson, a couple of years ahead of ST's HED group, ported ARM core to its ASIC library. The ST-Ericsson team mapped its high-level description, trimmed it and optimized it to a high-performance low-power process, thus hardening the core, explained Gilles Delfassy, president and CEO of ST-Ericsson. "We are sharing that with ST," he added. ST-Ericsson, meanwhile, didn't have to develop its own digital video or audio codecs, as they got those well-proven cores from ST's HED group.

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