The ‘Cell’ That Gave Rise to Convergence

By Ron Miller

Sony Corporation , Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) and IBM are taking their relationship with advanced “Cell” chip technology to a new level. The companies are now producing a prototype digital-content entertainment development workstation that will speed even more convergence in computing devices.

The desktop, based on the Cell chip, is slated to be released in the fourth quarter.

IBM intends to develop the Cell-based workstations to power digital content creation. Sony’s SCEI plans to lead the development of the Cell-based operating environment by providing the architecture, algorithms, middleware and data structure for tools needed to create digital content for movies and computer entertainment applications.

The Cell is the codename for the first chip produced by IBM’s 300mm semiconductor manufacturing facility for Sony. It is part of a deal IBM signed with Sony back in February in which Sony agreed to invest $325 million in IBM’s Fishkill, N.Y., chip foundry. The investment was part of Sony’s continuing partnership with IBM to develop next-generation 65-nanometer chips for its consumer electronic devices. Industry observers believed that the chip would become the engine behind the greatly anticipated Playstation 3.

Yankee analyst Mike Goodman said this is a signal that development is set to begin on Sony’s next generation game console.

“They are putting the developer’s kit into developer’s hands in the [fourth quarter]. What you can take out of that is that when development kits hit the market, you’re moving to the next step of development of the next generation console,” Goodman told

The Cell processor-based development environment is expected to deliver quantum-leap innovation to entertainment applications by using massive data bandwidth and vast floating point capabilities, coupled with a parallel processing architecture. Cell-based workstations will be designed to expand the platform for creating digital content across future movie and video game entertainment industries.

John Kelly, senior vice president and group executive with IBM’s
systems and technology group, thinks the development of the Cell chip, coupled with a new development environment, will help push entertainment development into previously unchartered territory.

“The Cell-based workstations we are creating with Sony and SCEI will deliver scalable, supercomputer-like performance to the media,
entertainment and video game industries,” Kelly said.

“Cell has enormous power for creating broadband content,” added Ken Kutaragi, executive deputy president and Group CEO for SCEI. “Today, movies and games are sharing the same world and characters on a common database. Within a few years, both forms of entertainment will be fused and become indistinguishable, offering a seamless experience in the home,” he said in a statement.

Yankee’s Goodman said while the convergence of devices for movies and video games has already begun, he said the real power of the Cell chip is the ability to bring this to other devices.

“There is already a convergence between cinematography and video games. Look what EA has done with ‘Lord of the Rings.’ They inserted two or three hours of cinematography into the game. There’s also already been a convergence in the platform in terms of the way consumers use consoles. Two thirds of households use PS/2 to watch DVDs and one third [use it] to listen to CDs. They have already have this move toward multi function home entertainment system,” he said.

“The expectation with Cell technology is that it’s not just for PS/3; we will see it in other Sony devices ranging from TVs to personal video recorders to DVD players, so these devices will also be able to play games as well as the game console,” Goodman said.

By putting these chips in other devices, Sony increases game royalty revenue opportunities, which, Goodman noted, is where they make their money.

“Sony makes the bulk of its money on royalties on third party titles–for a $50 title, they are getting a $7 royalty check. If you increase the number of devices, you increase the installed base and increase potential revenue,” Goodman said.

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