Next-Gen Set-Tops: Triple the Horsepower

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Los Angeles — The next major wave of set-top boxes will be able to run circles around today’s models.

Set-top chips targeted for delivery in 2011 are being spec’d at 3,000 MIPS (million instructions per second), according to Ken Morse, CTO of Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group — delivering three times the processing power of Cisco’s current Explorer 8600 line.

“The silicon in set-tops and gateways is going multicore, just like on PC processors,” Morse says.

With the faster processors, Morse explains, set-tops will be able to support multiple DRMs and codecs. They also could potentially support other presentation environments, such as Web services or Flash-based environments.

“When you start to present to other devices the service provider doesn’t control, you may have to think about Flash or things like that,” Morse says.

Full-resolution 3DTV would also need extra oomph (see 3DTV Work Left To Be Done).

Given that set-tops will be as powerful as PCs of just a few years ago, why not just adopt an Intel x86 architecture and take advantage of that ecosystem?

“We’ve been working with Intel on x86. There’s definitely a lot of value down that road in terms of software integration,” Morse says. “We are continuing to work with Intel to see what might make sense.”