MADISON, Wis. — The battle over the digital TV market among semiconductor companies is undergoing a quiet but major transformation, as key players reshuffle and target devices multiply.
First, the players doggedly chasing the DTV and set-top market are no longer traditional TV chip vendors. Instead, mobile (i.e., tablet) SoC vendors have emerged to take the lead.
Second, ARM, accordingly, is putting significant effort into the ecosystem of DTV SoCs, once a domain dominated by MIPS (now acquired by Imagination Technologies).
Third, key players in the DTV field are now Chinese. Western contenders like Intel, Trident, and Zoran abandoned the DTV SoC market a few years ago.
A case in point is Allwinner Technology, a fabless chip company in Zhuahi, China, that specializes in ARM-based apps processors for smartphones and tablets.
Allwinner stepped forward and announced earlier this week that it has joined Linaro as a founding member of the Linaro Digital Home Group. Linaro is a not-for-profit organization, comprising more than 200 engineers, whose mission is to optimize open-source software for the ARM architecture.
It's important to note that the Chinese company isn't being listed as a nominal member of Linaro. Instead, Allwinner is eager to take an initiative in the digital TV and set-top market. Jack Lee, Allwinner's Chief Marketing Officer, said in a statement, "We will take an active role in the organization and work with Linaro and the open-source community to drive new ARM technologies."
Compared to the time when the DTV and set-top market meant bulky cable or satellite set-top boxes or large-screen DTV designed to run simple applications in a walled garden environment, today's digital home market consists of everything from cable/satellite/IP set-top boxes to Roku, Apple TV, Netgear, SmartTV, HMI "sticks," and smartphones and tablets.
These new devices receive signals, not just from broadcast, but also from cloud-based services. They run applications such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter while sharing content via WiFi, AirPlay, or Miracast.
In short, anyone, who believes that today's DTV market is dead, is misinformed.
"There is a massive battle brewing on the DTV and set-top space," Steve Taylor, executive director of marketing at Linaro, told us.
Tablet SoCs and IP set-top SoCs are converging.
Click here for larger image.
Meanwhile, when one compares tablet SoCs with IP set-top SoCs, it is clear that the key subsystems on such SoCs -- including CPU and GPU -- are already common. Content security known as High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) 1.2 is also already implemented in upcoming SoCs with ARM TrustZone, according to Linaro.
Linaro believes the industry will find clear benefits in using tablet SoCs for IP set-top boxes.
So does Allwinner.