STMicroelectronics and Hitachi Semiconductor America Inc.
have teamed up to develop a next-generation microprocessor that would significantly boost
the computing power available in cable set-top boxes and other consumer devices.
The "SH-5" chip design being released this week
-- with chips expected to be available to manufacturers late next year -- is intended to
power the advanced applications that service providers want to make available through
rapidly evolving consumer devices.
In the case of cable set-tops, such applications as
videoconferencing, viewing MPEG-video (Moving Picture Expert Group) streams, advanced 3-D
games and even simultaneous use of such applications on a single TV will require greater
computing power -- balanced by cost and space limitations inherent in consumer devices.
In a briefing last week, STM and Hitachi executives said
the SH-5 is based on Hitachi's "SuperH" reduced-instruction-set-computer
processing engine, which is used for a variety of embedded industrial and consumer
applications, such as Sega Enterprises Ltd.'s "Dreamcast" video-game machine.
The chip is a 64-bit, 1,000-MIPS (millions of instructions
per second) microprocessor running at 400 megahertz -- a speed comparable with many PCs,
but not so powerful as to generate heat that would require costly heat sinks or cooling
In comparison, the current-generation SH-4 chip being
marketed to cable and satellite set-top manufacturers is a 230- to 500-MIPS solution.
Greville Commins, U.S. operations director for STM's
advanced RISC micros division, said the additional computing power is needed to run the
operating systems that enable such applications as "windowed" or PC-like TV
"Most of the set-tops today don't have the horsepower
to deliver in real time MPEG packets onto a TV screen," Commins said.
He added that the SH-5 architecture is intended to support
a "plain vanilla" type of device, allowing service operators or customers to
configure it for their particular advanced tasks by means of software downloads over their
"If we have to add hardware to each set-top for the
possibility that they'll want to do videoconferencing at some point, that's
expensive," Commins said. "But if you have a machine in which you can download
the code to do it, this becomes a soft, configurable multimedia device. This
[architecture] is very good at doing those kinds of things."
The companies said working in partnership better leveraged
the joint engineering resources and intellectual property of both firms.
This shortened the time for getting designs to market and
enabled a shared manufacturing process that made it easier to migrate their designs to
other companies wanting to become second-source suppliers of the chips to manufacturers.