Sigma Tunes Into HDTV with Decoder Chips

PC card and chipset maker Sigma Designs this week entered the digital TV marketplace with the industry’s first high-definition television (HDTV) decoder chips to support MPEG-4 .

The Milpitas, Calif.-based company known for its REALmagic line of PC cards said its EM8605 and EM8610 models support digital TV, DVD, video-on-demand (VOD) and personal video recording (PVR) applications. Samples of the two chips will be available in March with production scheduled for June.

Sigma said the EM8605 features high definition decoding, multi-stream video decoding in MPEG-4, MPEG-2, or MPEG-1 formats, multi-stream audio decoding, 2D graphics acceleration, transport stream handling with CSS (DVD) decryption, and advanced display processing.

With the proliferation of new standards, file formats and downloaded media, Sigma said its designed the EM8610 as a stand-alone system-on-chip solution for multi-function consumer appliances and digital televisions. The EM8610 offers an on-chip RISC processor, PCI-bus hosting, and IDE controller along with the same media processing functions as the EM8605 to enable highly efficient designs for systems supporting the widest range of digital video/audio features.

“MPEG-4 is a technology that is being deployed today to generate new revenues from bandwidth-limited applications that cannot be supported by MPEG-2,” said Sigma vice president of strategic marketing Ken Lowe. “We introduced the first set-top decoder solution for MPEG-4 a year ago, which has now been designed into new consumer appliances by over 20 independent companies.”

Those companies include National Semiconductor and Toshiba, which have all signed up to use Sigma’s EM8605 decoder chips for their set-top box designs.

Toshiba intends to introduce a higher performance platform based on Sigma’s EM8605 HDTV decoder during the first half of this year. National said it expects introducing a new set-top box reference design to the marketplace during the second quarter of this year.

Sigma’s new chips have also caught the attention of e-BOX, a joint venture led by Pioneer and Sharp with plans to execute field trials at Comcast during the first half of this year.

As the industry transforms its devices to digital formats, HDTV and advanced codec technologies are expected to top consumer electronics trends for the next several years. Driven in the U.S. market by an FCC mandate and a major cable industry proposal, digital televisions offering both ATSC and cable compatible interfaces are expected to appear on retail shelves near the end of this year.

Sigma says it is in the right direction considering high definition video, which occupies four to six times the bandwidth of standard video, is driving subscription video service providers to use more efficient technologies to maintain a full complement of channels.

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