SAN FRANCISCOIn its second acquisition this week, Broadcom Corp. picked up Stellar Semiconductor, a vendor of 3-D graphics acceleration cores, in anticipation of demand for zingy games and sales presentations to be delivered through TV set-top boxes.
Using the same "user experience" arguments that drove 3-D adoption among PC OEMs, Broadcomofficials hope to groom set-top boxes to handle applications such as multi-user games and graphics-heavy Web browsing.
Broadcom announced March 1 that it plans to issue roughly 750,000 shares of stock to purchase Stellar, making the deal worth roughly $160 million. The companies expect to close the deal before March 31.
Rich Nelson, director of cable TV products for Broadcom, said Stellar's technology was particularly compelling because of the power and, in some cases, memory limitations of consumer devices. Stellar's PixelSquirt architecture determines ahead of time which pixels are hidden from view, saving the effort of writing those values to memory and overwriting them later. The process allows Stellar to do away with the z-buffer commonly used by 3-D graphics accelerators, thus saving on memory.
In addition, PixelSquirt's performance can be ratcheted up or down by adding or removing processors, opening possibilities for a wide range of consumer products at different price and performance levels, Nelson said.
A set-top box loaded with 3-D graphics will be able to draw images that previously had to be composed in the studio. This opens the possibility of instantaneous 3-D rendering for such applications as multi-player games or on-line shopping, officials of both companies said.
"This is a requirement for any of the OEMs, because they see the benefits of having the client doing the rendering," said Sandeep Gupta, chief executive of Stellar. "Macy's, Mattelyou'll see the applications come."
By acquiring Stellar now, Broadcom can get the necessary 18-month jump to prepare for these applications, Nelson said. In addition, by owning the technology rather than licensing it, Broadcom can mold it as necessary for future system-on-a-chip designs.
Like most 3-D graphics players, Stellar had its eye on the PC market as well as consumer electronics, but "it became clear in the last four years that the consumer space was where we wanted to be," Gupta said.
From that point, it was easy for Stellar to decide to cozy up to Broadcom, whose chips own a huge market-share majority in set-top boxes. "Broadcom owns so many set-top boxes that from the market share standpoint, this was the best way to get into this industry," Gupta said.
Earlier, the company completed acquisitions of BlueSteel Networks and Digital Furnace.