Skip to main content

Equator Unveils New Set-Top Silicon

Anaheim, Calif. -- There's a new chip supplier in the mix,
touting an all-software approach to handling the changing technological mix for
advanced-digital set-tops.

The new player is Campbell, Calif.-based Equator
Technologies, a privately owned, four-year-old semiconductor company that detailed
aggressive set-top plans at the Western Show here last week.

Finding a way to download any and all technological changes
via software to chips is critical to the competitive future of broadband-network
operators, said John Setel O'Donnell, president and cofounder of Equator.

"It's important because we're in a world where
different markets are colliding as technologies are converging," he said, adding,
"This is a way to stay ahead in a world that is constantly changing."

That's because with Equator's chip -- which is expected to
be available early next year, at $200, in quantity -- operators can change technical
configurations on the fly. In contrast, "once you ship a set-top, you can't change
it" using today's silicon configurations, O'Donnell said.

Equator is already partnered with Hitachi Ltd. to make the
chip, which the two are calling the "MAP1000." O'Donnell described the chip as a
programmable media processor, based on DSP (digital signal processor) silicon and targeted
toward set-tops, high-definition television sets, digital-TV sets and other devices.

O'Donnell said he couldn't discuss negotiations with
set-top providers that may use the chip, except to express "great confidence"
that announcements will be coming shortly.

The chip replaces "hardwired" solutions, like
MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group) chips, with a programmable engine for "fully
software-based digital media and imaging without increased system cost," according to
the company.

If Equator's plans seem reminiscent of those of MicroUnity
Systems -- another silicon provider that pitched an all-software approach to silicon --
they are. MicroUnity went so far as to get significant MSO funding, through a cooperative
known in the mid-1990s as "MCNS," or Multimedia Cable Network System. That group
spelled out the early work for interoperable cable modems.

O'Donnell said Equator's approach is different from other
"media-processor" approaches, like that of MicroUnity -- although he didn't name
that company directly.

"Those other approaches were either not fast enough or
not easy enough to program" to survive, he added.

MicroUnity, notably, isn't totally out of the mix. In a
recent phone discussion, MicroUnity founder and CEO John Moussouris said the company is
still very active, but he's under a gag order until next year.