MANHASSET, NY Creative Technology, a Singapore-based company that pioneered in the 1990's the Sound Blaster PC add-in sound cards and later developed Nomad and Zen MP3 players, has embarked on the uncertain path to re-invention one more time.
With its latest fiscal-year revenue plummeting to $466 million, only one third of $1.3 billion the company raked in during its heyday of 2000, Creative is betting its survival on two things: a new system-on-chip combined with its system module called Zii Platform; and a new business model targeting a growing number of no brand name Chinese OEMs.
The Zii Platform, according to Creative, is designed to help so-called 'Shanzhai' OEMs -- Chinese makers of imitation/pirated brands and goods who have a huge appetite for ready-to-go technologies -- develop a range of high-quality and low-cost connected digital consumer products that can go rapidly to market.
Against this backdrop, ZiiLABS, spun out earlier this year as Creative's wholly-owned subsidiary, is today unveiling the company's third generation multimedia apps processor, called ZMS-08. The new SoC is promised to bring Blu-ray quality 1080p video, 3D and 2D graphics processing, compositing, image processing and advanced audio features to connected devices.
ZiiLABS' new apps processor, based on a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8, comes with a unique architecture that includes 64 fully programmable floating point processing elements.
ZiiLABS built the array of processing elements to off-load media processing from the ARM CPU, so that the chip can deliver high-performance multimedia features at low power, according to the company.
It's far from clear whether the new apps processor and system module strategy could save ZiiLABS' parent company from its current crisis.
But Hock Leow, who has served Creative through thick and thin previously as the company's chief technology officer, and now as president at ZiiLABS, appears confident of the company's market strategy, its engineering team, and the strength of the apps processor's architecture.
"As larger LCD screens become more affordable and bigger bandwidths get more prevalent," Leow explained in an interview with EE Times, the market is looking for solutions "that can bring YouTube to a larger screen TV and download movies from sites like BitTorrent directly to home media hubs -- without using a PC."
Intended applications for ZiiLABS' ZMS-08 multimedia processor include "connected TVs, video conferencing systems, Web tablets, media hubs and even smartphones," according to Leow.
This market, however, is already crowded with fiercely competitive solutions from companies such as Texas Instruments, Samsung, Nvidia, Marvell and Qualcomm. Leow remains unfazed. He claimed: "We will compete against them on price, performance and power."