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Mirics turns PC servers into multi-tuner DVRs for $5 BOM

We went to UK radio chip specialist Mirics for an update this week at it seems a lot has happened to the PC TV company since we last met with it and f

By PETER WHITE

Published: 11 November, 2010

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We went to UK radio chip specialist Mirics for an update this week at it seems a lot has happened to the PC TV company since we last met with it and found it is on the verge of a major customer announcement with a tier one PC maker.

While Mirics wouldn’t say which of potentially five or six companies this could be we know that Dell has already laid out is plans for putting TV chips on many of its devices and have been waiting for some time to see this echoed in announcements from HP, so perhaps Mirics has nailed a HP deal, although it is just as likely to be Acer, Lenovo or Toshiba or even ASUS, which broke into the top five this Summer. Anyway we’ll know for sure shortly.

What Mirics does is simply sell a $2 to $3 dongle which receives TV signals and the reason this is so cheap is that it harnesses a PC’s own processing power to interpret those signals, handling signal demodulation and the video decoding. That way it can offer a single chip for all the world’s digital TV and provide software for the demodulation.

It offers FM, DAB, T-DMB, DVB-T, DVB-H, ISDB-T and China’s CMMB demodulators, and we expect ATSC shortly and can even decode HD programming. It has embarked on a flat out effort to reduce the processing power required from the core chip to handle this and when it first came out with its FlexiTV products in 2008 it took over 50% of the CPU to get the job done. Later it coped with HD on smaller devices such as netbooks and ARM based Tablets, by harnessing the power of any Cuda Engine in Nvidia graphics chips, which gives it life on another 100 million devices.

The next step was to offer this on a home server and placeshift the video stream to other portable devices which could never have managed to handle the demodulation on their own.

CEO Simon Atkinson told us that since the new Intel Nehalem chip arrived as a successor to the Intel Core microarchitecture, the processor dealt with the decoding and demodulation mode far more easily. “The most challenging environment for us is when an 8MHz TV channel carries an entire TV multiplex, coded in 64QAM. One we’ve tuned the multiplex we demux it and select the channel people want to view. In the Nehalem chip that load went down to 25% of available processing cycles.”

This was all brought about through higher clock speeds, hyper-threading parallelism and software optimization, from one Intel generation to another. The next generation of Intel chips, based on its Sandy Bridge architecture, which is built in 32 nanometers, will bring this down further.

“Intel is an investor in Mirics, so we get the same access to new architectures as major OEMs, and in 2011 there will be devices out based on this chip. Again in the most challenging environment this will mean a single multiplex will take up 13% of the total processor power.”

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