Taking the Set-Top Box Where No Set-Top Has Gone Before

Last week, Philips Semiconductors (a division of Philips Electronics) announced the first in a new family of silicon chips that they claim "will revolutionize the way we use television." The company says its pnx8500 Nexperia Home Entertainment Engine will enable the combination of digital video, audio, graphics, and Internet content into "highly interactive" program material and will allow cable and satellite service providers to add new digital subscriber services to their existing TV program offerings. At the same time, Philips also announced Samsung's support for the new chip in its next-generation consumer set-top box.

Philips says that, in addition to the video-on-demand and time-shift recording facilities that will be standard on next-generation set-top boxes, the enhanced subscriber services that can be delivered using the new chip include personal video recording, interactive television, commerce, high-speed Internet access, gaming, and voice and video telephony. The company adds that the new chip can also be used to implement a complete home media center combining set-top box, CD, video recorder, and games console capabilities.

Philips claims that the pnx8500 is more complex than a Pentium III processor and is based on the company's TriMedia dual-processor Nexperia-DVP (Digital Video Platform) architecture. Philips says the chip has enough computing power to implement new subscriber services on top of the dozens of "middleware" programs (e.g., OpenTV, Microsoft TV, Canal+ Technologies' MediaHighway, Liberate TV Navigator and MHP) that are emerging in the digital broadcast industry. Philips also states that this architecture also makes the pnx8500 powerful enough to support potential "killer applications" such as interactive network gaming, and allows it to adapt to new streaming video standards such as MPEG-4, which is expected to enable thousands of channels to be delivered "on demand" to subscribers.

According to Philips, the company will incorporate the pnx8500 into one million set-top boxes it is currently providing to AT&T Broadband. In addition, Philips says that the pnx8500 is at the heart of the set-top boxes they are providing to UPC, a European integrator of voice, video, and data services. Microsoft and Philips have also recently announced an agreement to develop a range of Nexperia-based set-top boxes running Microsoft TV software.

Philips' David Barringer explains that "by combining the functionality that users currently expect to find in multiple devices, such as a video recorder and Internet terminal, into one set-top box, service providers will be able to create significant new revenue streams. For example, the pnx8500's ability to support time-shift recording allows set-top boxes to collect and store programs that match an individual viewer's preferences, and also allows the commercials that appear in those programs to be equally tailored to each viewer. The pnx8500's Internet capabilities can then provide point-and-click access to Internet sites that facilitate online purchasing."