Microtune Bows Enhanced DTV Chip

Plano, Tex.-based TV tuner manufacturer Microtune has introduced a new silicon-based digital television (DTV) tuner, the MT2131, aimed at the estimated 300 million TV sets and set-top boxes worldwide that will eventually need a tuner conforming to the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) digital TV standard.

Microtune released its first DTV chip back in 1999, but has found the market for over-the-air DTV tuner chips to be slow going. The company had shifted the bulk of its business to providing tuners for cable set-tops and cable modems. "It took us five years to ship our first 5 million tuners," says Microtune CEO Jim Fontaine.

Business has picked up, and Microtune has shipped 26 million tuners to date. Now that the cost of silicon-based tuners has come down somewhat compared to traditional "can"-type tuners with wire conductors, and improved DTV reception is becoming a more important issue with the analog-shutoff date of February 2009 looming, Microtune thinks the DTV chip business has greater potential.

It should also help that Congress' mandate that all TV's 24 inches-35 inches include a built-in TV tuner kicked in March 1.

The MT2131 is a "three-in-one" tuner that integrates analog NTSC, DTV and digital cable reception capability onto a single piece of silicon that costs around $2.40 per chip. It also should offer improved DTV reception, particularly for consumers using antennas in their attics. In addition to TV set manufacturers and cable set-top makers, Fontaine sees a market for the MT2131 with manufacturers of low-cost DTV-to-analog converter boxes, which are being made available for purchase with the help of a government subsidy for viewers with analog sets.He predicts there will be 20 million over-the-air set-tops by 2008, some with personal video recorder capability. But Fontaine says that challenges remain with indoor reception using the current DTV standard, and that reliable reception using small indoor "rabbit ear" antennas is still a question mark despite the continued improvements in receiver technology.