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Low-cost HD recording for the home gets closer

This week LSI Logic unveiled two new chips aimed at giving DVD and personal video recorder manufacturers an inexpensive way to offer ATSC SD and HD recording and playback.

With an FCC mandate of March 1, 2007, looming that requires the addition of an HDTV/ATSC tuner capability, consisting of a digital tuner, an 8-VSB demodulator, and an ATSC-compliant HD decoder processor, to peripheral systems, LSI Logic believes the time is right for its new DMN-8633 and DMN-8683.

Based on the company’s DoMiNo architecture, both are single-chip solutions for ATSC-compliant HDTV DVD recording systems. While they are aimed at consumer products, the new chips could fuel broad acceptance of HD home recording devices based upon their relative low cost and high performance. As a result, they may be a critical factor in the equation that motivates a consumer to upgrade to high definition television.

High Definition Technology Update spoke with LSI Logic senior product marketing manager Ed Silva about the new chips and the role they might play in the future of HDTV.

HD Technology Update: How do the new DMN-8633 and DMN-8683 chips fit into the mix for HD recorder manufacturers seeking to meet the FCC mandate for ATSC compliance by March 1, 2007?

Ed Silva: The key way they are able to address the FCC mandate is that they both decode and record SD and HD broadcasting. Additionally, they are designed to accommodate DTV closed captions and ATSC PSIP data. In a single processor, they provide SD recording to DVDs and are able to receive native ATSC HD broadcast to watch and/or record to a hard drive.

HDTU: Encoding and decoding on a single chip offers reduced costs for makers of hard disk-based HD personal video recorders and DVD recorder/players. What other benefits are there?

ES: The key benefit, obviously, is system cost. No separate decoder and system memory is required. Also, there’s reduced system software complexity. If you have a bolt-on solution for a standard DVD recorder - one that adds a separate ATSC chip to decode and downscale HD broadcast for display and recording by the DVD chip - the complexity goes up and video quality is reduced. DoMiNo unifies those and brings them onto a single chip reducing time to market and complexity.

The other benefit is the value-add features. Our integrated processor records native HD onto a hard drive, creating HDTV PVR capabilities. We’ve received very positive feedback from manufacturers about that feature. Other features, such as our DVFX proprietary video processing for higher quality video and YesDVD for personal content editing are helping to increase the value of DVD recorders.

HDTU: How did the development of these chips benefit from LSI’s history in the development of the MPEG engines found in millions of DVD systems worldwide?

ES: This product line relies on the DoMiNo processor architecture. A multiple CPU architecture with software programmability allows LSI to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the consumer market. These factors allow our customers to get to the market in a timely fashion with the best feature-cost balance.

It’s a very tight line you walk in the DVD recorder space. You have to keep your eye on the cost while addressing the constant feature enhancements. That is a key benefit with the DMN-8633 and DMN-8683.

For example, look at a consumer item – the finished single-drive DVD recorder priced below $179 today. With the mandate to record ATSC SD and HD, you are talking about adding $20 to $30 to the bill of materials. With DoMiNo, you can eliminate $10 to $15 of that cost. That is significant for manufacturers grappling with how they will cost-effectively make the March 1, 2007, deadline.

In addition to addressing cost, features and the new resolutions, such as HD, the other big benefit of DoMiNo is support for multi-format encoding, such as MPEG-4 and DivX, or the ability to encode into a lower bit rate format. This is key to enabling a consumer to record the high resolution broadcast content onto portable devices for playback. In those portable formats where screens are small, resolution is not as much of a factor; however, the size of the recording and the amount of space it takes up is critical.

If a consumer chooses to watch in a more mobile application, they can take that content and transcode it to a lower bit rate format, such as MPEG-4, and copy it to a Flash memory card and take that out and go. The DoMiNo architecture is unique in that we can do simultaneous dual encoding. At the same time, we can record in both high and low bit rate formats for home theater and portable options.

We are seeing the Flash memory interface card becoming a mainline feature in DVD recorders next year.

HDTU: What are the other benefits the DMN-8633 and DMN-8683?

ES: Another key feature of the DoMiNo architecture is its ability to upscale SD. That allows a DVD recorder system to be able to offer HD out all of the time using DoMiNo. It can display native HD, but also with broadcasts that are happening in SD, we can upscale that to improve the resolution and display of that content.

The standard definition upscale is critical for consumers who are looking to get the most out of their HDTV displays. Imagine a single drive DVD recorder with HD coming in. In this application, the HD is decoded and recorded to a DVD disk in SD resolution because that’s what the DVD format supports. When the consumer wants to watch it at a later time, the recorder obtains the content from the optical drive, decodes it and upscales it for a better viewing experience.

The feedback we are getting from our customers is that they see this as an important capability.

HDTU: Consumers are adopting HD displays, yet components they are accustomed to in their NTSC environment – specifically the ability to record and playback programs in HD - are rare. Given the ability of these new chips to propel products into the market that can do just that, do you think they will speed HD adoption by consumers?

ES: The adoption of HDTV is happening no matter what, because consumers are going into retail stores, looking at displays, evaluating prices and making the decision to go with HDTVs. Obviously, the FCC mandate is also having an impact. What we are looking at here is now that you have made an investment in HD, how do you maximize your enjoyment of it?

The ability to record HD over-the-air signal and enjoy a complete DVR experience will speed the adoption of HD in the market in the United States. Many consumers today are buying HDTVs, but not signing up for premium HD packages from satellite and cable operators because subscription prices can be higher and boxes more expensive. We believe that our solutions will begin to allow consumers to enjoy over-the-air HD to the fullest. We are bringing about an affordable way to fully enjoy HD and that will ultimately create more of a pull in the consumer space for HD.

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