Philips floats full-boat chip

Manufacturer touts 'future-proofed' 'overdesigned' silicon for cable set-tops

Philips Semiconductors is attacking the digital set-top market with a new high-end chip that the company acknowledges it has "overdesigned" in an effort to support future interactive applications.

The pnx8500 Nexperia "Home Entertainment Engine" integrates more than 32 million transistors into a chip that will support HDTV decoding and personal-video-recorder (PVR) functionality as well as Web browsing and voice-over-IP applications.

The chip has been designed with a MIPS/TriMedia dual-processor architecture that gives it extra computing power for the new subscriber services being enabled by the "middleware" of companies like OpenTV, MicrosoftTV and Liberate.

"We look at it as 'future-proofed,' " says Deborah Harvey, director of the consumer/multimedia market segment. "It has the ability to add those services to the set-top box through remote programming."

The pricing for the chip is also high-end: $48 in volumes of 100,000. That's a big step up from ST Microelectronics' low-cost silicon, which sells for around $25 in similar volumes, says Jay Srivatsa, senior analyst with Gartner Dataquest.

"These guys clearly didn't want to go to the low end of the spectrum," he says. "They threw everything and the kitchen sink on the chip."

Since the pnx8500's pricing is high, Srivatsa predicts that Philips will heavily subsidize the chip in order to gain market share in set-top silicon, where it has a minimal presence. The new chip already has two customers that will use it in Philips digital set-tops: AT & T Broadband, which is buying a million Philips set-tops, and European operator UPC.