PHOENIX -- LSI Logic Corp., which has kept a low profile in consumer ICs in recent years, is stepping up its consumer activities with a focus on the digital video market, according to Hugh Durdan, the company's new vice president and general manager of consumer products.
Durdan said his group will target three areas over the next 18 months: digital satellite set-tops, Sony Corp.'s Playstation 2 and DVD players. LSI Logic plans to leverage its digital subscriber line (DSL) and HomeRF silicon expertise to pry open design opportunities in intermediate-generation Playstation 2 game consoles and two-way digital satellite set-tops.
One digital video market the company won't pursue, however, is that for HDTV decoder ICs. Durdan described the terrestrial digital HDTV market in the United States as "practically nonexistent."
At a recent analysts meeting here, LSI Logic claimed that its digital set-top business has been soaring since the fourth quarter. John Daane, executive vice president of the communications products group, noted that the capacity constraints recently experienced by STMicroelectronics, in particular, have helped increase LSI Logic's set-top IC business.
Durdan agreed. Although "we were late with our SC2000 single-chip source decoder," he said, "a lot of customers are now open to talking to us," either as a second source or as a replacement for market leader STMicroelectronics.
ST's take on the market dynamic is that the "free box" campaigns rolled out in mid-1999 by satellite service providers seeking to boost subscriptions sent decoder demand through the roof. Some service providers fretted that STMicroelectronics might not be able to deliver promised chips on time, acknowledged Philippe Lambinet, general manager of ST's digital video division in Grenoble, France.
But STMicroelectronics responded by increasing set-top decoder production in Phoenix and in Crolles, France, said Lambinet. It also qualified foundries in Taiwan and Singapore for the set-top product line late last year. While set-top IC shipments last month doubled those in February 1999, Lambinet said, "we also doubled our production run rate in order to keep up with the demand."
It remains unclear whether the backlog that LSI claims to be tapping will allow the company to unseat STM in some key design slots. "As far as we know, we haven't lost any of our customers yet," Lambinet said, adding that STMicroelectronics will increase capacity at its new fab in Rousset, France, this year.
LSI's SC2000 integrates the functions of DVB transport with MPEG-2 A/V decoding, a 2-D graphics engine, a multistandard video encoder, audio D/A converters and a TinyRISC CPU. Although LSI announced the part last May and had promised volume shipments by third-quarter 1999, the chip is just sampling now. Volume production will begin this month, according to a company spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, the company is looking to high-speed Internet connectivity and wireless home networking as two major technology drivers for its consumer division road map.
Adding a back-channel capability to satellite decoder boxes, via either DSL or very small aperture (VSA) technologies, is the next step for the division, Durdan said.
"Although nobody is deploying boxes yet, there have been a lot of discussions among satellite service providers on the development of two-way satellite connectivity," confirmed Michelle Abraham, senior analyst for multimedia at Cahners In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz. In "playing catch-up with ST Micro," she said, "it makes sense for LSI to go after the two-way satellite market, especially considering its own DSL technology."
Similarly, by exploiting its communication and wireless expertise, LSI Logic hopes to pursue further design-ins in what Durdan called "intermediate generation Playstation 2 boxes": those offering incremental improvements on the first model. The consoles will require high-speed data connectivity and home networking capabilities, Durdan said.
The current Sony console contains LSI Logic's I/O processor. The chip is integrated with logic for maintaining backward compatibility with software designed for the previous-generation Playstation, as well as for handling such I/O capabilities as IEEE 1394 and USB.
Durdan said LSI's "goal is to continue to work with Sony" with an eye toward design wins for the DSL and wireless HomeRF technologies used in new incarnations of the Playstation 2. Working with Proxim, LSI Logic became the first ASIC supplier for HomeRF last fall.
DVD will still play a role for LSI Logic's consumer IC business. LSI Logic is more interested in pursuing DVD as a fixed standard platform than in adding bells and whistles to its silicon to enable combo DVD systems, said Durdan. The company expects China to be the biggest market for its DVD chip set in 2001.
LSI is also keeping an eye on the rewritable DVD market. But with players in that fragmented market confronting an embarrassment of competing formats -- DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM -- Durdan said the company will probably seek strength in numbers. "We will likely find a partner first, by the end of this year, and then work on it together," he said.