New chips equipped for 4K video streaming

STMicroelectronics joins the 64-bit ARM chip race with new chips for set-top boxes

Makers of cable boxes and video streaming devices will soon have the option of delivering 4K video with STMicroelectronics' new chips, which will decode the emerging HEVC video codec and support the HDMI 2.0 video delivery specification.

The chip company announced that it was developing chips based on its new STi8K design, which is based on ARM's 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture. The chips will assist in delivery of 4K video to TVs, mobile devices and computers through set-top boxes, home networks and the cloud, STMicroelectronics said.

4K, which is also called Ultra HD, is expected to be the new standard in high-definition. Most HDTVs and monitors are capable of high-definition resolutions of 1920 x 1080 pixels, but 4K provides four times the depth. 4K TVs, monitors and cameras are expected to be prominent at the International CES trade show in Las Vegas this week, which is where STMicroelectronics announced STi8K.

The new chips based on STi8K, code-named Cannes, Monaco and Alicante, will be capable of video delivery at up to 60 frames per second, which is standard on the new 4K TVs. The chips based on STi8K are designed for cable boxes, Internet streaming devices and multimedia gateways in data centers.

The new chips will be able to decode 4K video based on the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), also called with H.265, which is the 4K video codec being promoted by the International Telecommunications Union. HEVC is competing for adoption with VP9, a royalty-free video standard developed by Google which is being adopted by major TV and chip makers. STMicroelectronics did not respond to a question as to whether it would support VP9.

The products will also support HDMI 2.0 ports, and the cables will be able to deliver video at up to 18G bps (bits per second), which is good enough for multiple 4K video streams and 32 simultaneous audio channels.

Chips accelerate video decoding with the help of specialized accelerators, and the STi8K supports transcoding technology called "Faroudja," which will help deliver eight high-definition video streams simultaneously. That should make multimedia content distribution easier across networks or to multiple devices at home, STMicroelectronics said.

With STi8K, STMicroelectronics has become the latest vendor to announce 64-bit ARM chips. Nvidia on Sunday announced its first 64-bit ARM-based chip, Tegra K1, which has 192 graphics cores and is targeted at gamers.

Most set-top boxes and TVs are currently equipped with chips based on MIPS architecture, though ARM is taking market share away with its latest chip designs.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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