IBM is developing a 'system on a chip' for set-top boxes to transform television sets into fully interactive, two-way information appliances.
Big Blue intends to combine its PowerPC processors with other television set-top box components to form three of these devices.
The chips, which enable TVs to display programme guides and viewers to check bank balances, are based on IBM's PowerPC 405 and 401 processors. They include an Mpeg-2 audio/video decoder, a memory interface sub-system and a variety of peripheral interfaces.
Paul Belluz, director of digital video products at IBM Microelectronics, predicts that the computing power of such devices will exceed that of desktop PCs manufactured one or two years ago. "These chips will help fundamentally change the way films, music and other digital entertainment is delivered to the home, as well as the way we conduct personal business transactions," he said.
The STB0322 and STB034 chips are based on the PowerPC 405 and have clock speeds of 108Mhz or 162Mhz. They also come with a 16Kb instruction cache and an 8Kb data cache.
IBM claims the STB034 provides the fastest single chip speeds available to make it easier for developers to programme and boost the performance of new packages.
The company has also introduced a companion audio and video transport decoder chip to run emerging applications such as dual channel platforms and digital video recording. The chips will be available as samples in May, with production availability scheduled for July. Electronics giant Samsung has already signed up as an original equipment manufacturer partner.
Analyst IDC predicts that the market for information appliances, including set-top boxes and handheld computers, will grow from 11 million units in 1999 to 89 million units in 2004. Revenue generated from the products will grow from $2.4bn last year to $17.8bn in 2004.
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