ATI readies integrated chip for consumer devices

Multimedia chip manufacturer ATI Technologies Inc. Wednesday announced its first system-on-chip (SoC) for digital devices including TV receivers and DVD players, designed to lower costs for device manufacturers.

ATI is best known for its Radeon graphics boards in PCs. In June, Nintendo Co. Ltd. announced that it would also be using a sound and graphics processor from ATI in its Gamecube gaming console, expected to be released in November. ATI's Xilleon 220 system-on-chip, to be unveiled at this week's Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California, combines a MIPS processor with graphics, video, audio, a memory controller and peripheral controllers including USB (Universal Serial Bus) and hard drive controllers, said Daniel Eiref, director of marketing and technology for ATI.

"This is pretty much everything you need (for a digital TV receiver) less memory and a tuner, and maybe a modem," Eiref said.

With more components combined on a single chip, set-top box builders and cable companies that subsidize the boxes save on cost, space and power, he said. "In certain situations, we're replacing as many as four different chips," Eiref said. The Xilleon 220 can replace the CPU, the MPEG decoder, the bridge chip to connect the CPU and the decoder, and the I/O (input-output) chip to connect a USB or hard drive interface. "In certain cases, we can save up to 50 percent of the semiconductor cost in the box," he said.

The MIPS CPU also runs at 300MHz, compared to the 50MHz to 100MHz speed of the processors inside most satellite and cable set-top boxes, Eiref said. "It gives people the option to run some pretty sophisticated applications," he said. "Also, cable providers have a lot of CPU headroom to run with" for future service upgrades, he said.

The Xilleon 220 also features a dual-display engine, which lets consumers watch two different programs on two different TVs using only one box. "Set-top boxes can cost quite a bit of money, and network operators need to subsidize them," he said. "This way, you only have one hard drive, and one box to subsidize."

For personal video recorders, the processor offers encryption for digital data streams. "Hollywood is very nervous," Eiref said. "The single-chip solution with encryption means that nothing goes to the hard drive without being encrypted. " The Xilleon also allows users to pause a TV program being viewed on the full screen, while allowing a program in the picture-in-picture display to continue, he said.

ATI expects the Xilleon 220 to be available in sample quantities by the end of October, with volume production late in the first quarter of 2002.

The Microprocessor Forum, in San Jose, runs from Monday, Oct. 15, through Friday, Oct. 19. More information can be found on the Web at http://www.mdronline.com/mpf/index.html/.

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