CrestaTech aims to tame multistandard mobile TV hydra

CrestaTV’s Universal Broadband Receiver converges radio, TV and GPS into a self-adapting PCTV tuner.

Despite expectations of universal standards, digital TV (terrestrial and mobile) unleashed a hydra-like proliferation of standards. In addition, analog TV is still going strong in parts of the world, especially in Asia where an estimated 34 million actually watch mobile TV regularly. (The research firm In-Stat forecasts that analog mobile viewers will outnumber the digital audience at least through this year.)

Building compatible products for each of these standards is a headache for PC OEMs, and one reason PCTV remains mobile TV's Cinderella-like step-sister, according to CrestaTech marketing and sales VP Ramon Cazares, is because "OEMs want to build one product for the mass market, not one product for every different market." The 4-year-old Santa Clara, CA, startup is betting that its CrestaTV Universal Broadband Receiver for radio, TV and GPS can tame the complexity and help animate the hitherto inert PCTV market.

CrestaTV comprises CrestaTech's CTC-200/201 programmable RF and interface IC, CrestaTech's signal processing software and CrestaWare companion applications. Among these is an application for building custom channels and integration with social networking tools such as Facebook for live chatting — and sharing your channels — with friends.

George Haber and Mihai Murgulescu founded CrestaTech with seed money from Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim. A serial entrepreneur, Haber was the founder of graphics processor company GigaPixel (acquired by NVIDIA) and CompCore Multimedia.

"When CompCore was developing the software DVD player, people were saying no one would want it," Cazares said. "Today, a software DVD player is a given on every PC." So, why not radio and TV, Haber reasoned.

In 2007, CrestaTech introduced a low-power satellite radio receiver that merges XM and SIRIUS radio signals. The company then turned its attention — and a second round of venture investment — to developing a “universal broadband receiver" that demodulates GPS, radio and TV signals using the PC's processor.

This convergence gives CrestaTV some unique intelligence.

CrestaTV features a broadband tuner that scans the entire TV spectrum. "You have to be able to scan the entire spectrum for analog, digital, cable-in-the-clear," Cazares said. However, the integrated GPS enables a directed, intelligent scan. "The tuner knows where you are and what channels you should be able to receive. This directed scan takes three seconds as opposed to 20 or 30 minutes," he said

"The tuner can then be optimized for a region," Cazares said, "optimizing on linearity or phase noise. A software solution allows you to do it differently. In silicon, you need to minimize the number of registers and the amount of memory; otherwise, die size explodes. If you do it in software, you can make the registers as big as you need — there's no cost penalty — and turn specific algorithms on or off by region."

To minimize CPU load, CrestaTV uses a dual antenna system with two tuners. "We take the output of one tuner and loop it back to the other tuner, and send the optimal signal to the CPU for demodulation," Cazares said. "Our benchmark is to be 50 percent of the (CPU) load or less, similar to a DVD." Power use is likewise comparable to a DVD player, he added.

CrestaTech doesn't plan to stop with PCTV. The company has handheld devices in its sights for the next generation of CrestaTV and beyond that 3G and white space radio. What about television in a browser? "It would be possible," Cazares said, "to do a Hulu live — live TV within the IPTV experience."

OEMs can implement CrestaTV on PCIe cards, mini PCIe cards and USB TV sticks. Cazares expects product samples to be available this summer.

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