Cheaper, Faster, Smaller, Better

Both Pioneer and Zenith Electronics announced new digital set-top boxes last week, as the race to control digital content flowing into consumers' homes continues.

Zenith reports that it has begun shipments of its new DTV1080 digital HDTV set-top receiver ($799), which the company says features its latest digital television (DTV) reception circuitry. Zenith says that in addition to receiving all ATSC formats for terrestrial DTV broadcasts, the DTV1080 also receives DirecTV high-definition and standard-definition satellite signals, as well as NTSC analog TV signals.

For improved terrestrial DTV reception and noise immunity, Zenith says, this set-top box features the company's third-generation "VSB" digital TV chip and can connect to any type of digital or analog TV or monitor. According to Zenith, the DTV1080 outputs signals at 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i and offers a wide range of connection options, including an RGB 15-pin output, optical and coaxial Dolby Digital outputs, switchable component video connections, a DIRECTV input, two RF inputs and one output, one S-Video output and two A/V outputs, a Smart Card slot, modem, phone jack, calibration port, and EZ-Link port.

Other features: built-in aspect ratio correction that automatically switches between widescreen (16:9) and conventional (4:3) format images and provides various "Zoom" modes; Dolby Digital processing for 5.1-channel surround sound; DirecTV's Advanced Program Guide; 3D Y/C comb filter that digitally controls and separates color (chroma) and picture (luminance) information; enhanced line doubler/upconverter designed to sharpen picture quality from analog signals and upconvert signals to higher resolution formats.

Pioneer, which claims a 12% market share in the set-top business, says its new box, the Voyager 3000, is powered by Broadcom's "system-on-a-chip" single chip MPEG processor and offers dedicated processing power for enhanced graphics processing and session-based applications. The company adds that in addition to having one of the smallest set-top footprints in the industry, the 3000 comes with increased memory over its predecessor (16 MB RAM with a 32 MB factory option), 4 MB Flash ROM with an 8MB option, and a multifunction CPU with dedicated processing power for both graphics processing and session-based applications.

Pioneer's Dan Ward comments, "Because it has the potential of enabled de facto standards and can support infrared, USB, serial port, and IEEE 1394 communications, it is indicative of the direction Pioneer is taking in developing networked products. We expect a wide acceptance of this innovative technology box from our customers."