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Qualcomm's foray into STB space to shake industry

Posted: 04 Nov 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HEVC? Snapdragon? STB? UHD?

Qualcomm is treading new water with the introduction of the Snapdragon 600 MPQ8064, a chip featuring the company's quad-core version of an ARM-based architecture called Krait. As a fresh move towards the set-top box (STB) market, the chip can process high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) of a 1080p high-definition signal, though not the next-generation ultra-high definition (UHD) signals, indicated the company. HEVC compresses media content more than current standards, allowing for more channels, faster downloads and higher image quality.

Qualcomm is muscling its way into STB chip business, a move likely to shake up the market's competitive landscape, stated IHS. The market research firm added that Qualcomm is a serious contender to the prevailing STB duopoly held by Broadcom and STMicroelectronics. Both Broadcom and ST sit atop the $2 billion market for STB processors.

Qualcomm's foray in STB space to shake industry landscape

"For several years now, the lucrative market for STB audio-visual processors has been dominated by Broadcom and ST," said Jordan Selburn, senior principal analyst, consumer platforms, at IHS. "While a handful of vendors also competed, mostly with chips targeted at lower-performance systems, the two powerhouses virtually owned the high-end market and accounted for roughly 80 per cent of total STB processor revenue. Now Qualcomm has entered the STB market, and the incumbent leaders will face a serious challenger that has its sights set on domination."

In September Qualcomm announced it was partnering with Technicolour, a top-tier STB manufacturer based in France with a U.S. subsidiary in Boston, to power the Svelte box. The Snapdragon 600 will be inside the Svelte box, which will feature 4G Long Term Evolution, the first time the next-generation broadband connectivity standard will be available on a STB, boasted the firm.

Qualcomm owns more than half of the market for mobile equipment base band ICs, with its chips used in prominent devices such as the Apple iPhone and iPad. A very large multi-billion-dollar companyits semiconductor revenue grew from $2.4 billion in 2003 to more than $13 billion in 2012Qualcomm has been looking for new opportunities in which to expand, and the STB processor market fits the bill. The market for STB chips is sizeable, and it is a space in which Qualcomm already has a great deal of expertise in the key required functions.

More importantly, the sub-segments being targeted by Qualcomm, including home multimedia gateways, thin clients and residential gateways, are nearly greenfield opportunities where the well-established incumbents may have less of an advantage. Given Qualcomm's scale and expertise, the company must be regarded as a legitimate contender for new design wins in these areasa threat that Broadcom and ST, as well Intel and other top players, will do well to heed, IHS noted.

Qualcomm sees the move from the mobile space, where the company holds a dominant position, to the home as a natural transition. It views the STB as not being too different from the handset because once the signal to be decoded is past the air interface in a handset or the front end in a STB, the tasks required of the processor are quite similarnamely, to decode video and audio, as well as to run apps. The latter, while common in handsets, should increasingly become a core function of STBs in the future.

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