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HD video chip company sticks to its guns

Posted: 16 Jan 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HD video? smartphones? design sockets?

By all accounts, 2012 was a horrible year for developers of advanced apps processors/LTE modem chips who were gunning for big design sockets in high-end smartphones. Not counting Qualcomm and MediaTek, most companies ended up winning virtually zero design sockets. The few exceptions were nominal, and mostly insignificant, wins.

Several years ago, there were times when low-power, HD video compression and image processing chip company Ambarella briefly considered smartphones, pitching to handset guys the use of its low-power HD video codec as a differentiator. As a semiconductor start-up armed with high-end video technology, why not aim high and go for smartphone sockets? After all, the digital still/video camera segment (Ambarealla's core market) was tanking and warning signs were everywhere, predicting that everybody's next digital camera would be everybody's next smartphone.

Ambarella, however, wisely demurred on the plunge. At a time when apps processors keep integrating more and more multimedia functions, fighting the integration battle with your own stand-alone video codec/image processor chips didn't seem like a prudent choice.

On the other hand, Ambarella's fortunes faced an even tougher fate, when Kodak-Ambarella's key customer-filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two years ago.

The encoder market in which Ambarella has always held a strong share, and a booming market for IP security cameras were the two obvious places Ambarella could go. And yet, neither seemed to have enough potential to make up for the decreasing DSC market (from which Ambarella was already suffering) and the rising smartphone market (from which Ambarella decided to walk away.)

Enter the world of sports cameras.

HD video cameras have become so much smaller these days. They can be mounted on a bike helmet or embedded in goggles or even worn on a vest by war correspondents.

Chris Day, Ambarella's vice president of marketing and business development, remembers one of the first customer meeting he had when he joined the company a few years ago. The customer wanted to know what percentage of these tiny sports cameras might become wireless. Day guesstimated about 20 per cent at that time. Day told me last week, "Well, I actually had no idea. But I didn't want to give them a number that may sound too small to I just said, 20 per cent."

It turns out literally 100 per cent of those wearable sports cameras today come with wireless features.

Who knew?

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