ViXS has demonstrated a new 6-transcode multimedia home gateway system-on-chip (SoC) that supports both decode and encode for HEVC. While ViXS has 6-transcode semiconductors already in-market, the HEVC capabilities and level of system integration are new. Following the ratification of HEVC as the next generation (succeeding MPEG-4 AVC) standard for video compression in January 2013, this represents the first demonstration of a commercial HEVC transcoder chip. The demonstrated SoC also integrates the functions of a multimedia home gateway core SoC, including MoCA 2.0.
This is one of a number of developments relating to Multimedia Home Gateways (MHGs) and integrated transcoding to be announced following CES 2013. At the show itself, DISH Network debuted its Hopper with Sling as the first set-top box for a major pay TV operator to integrate transcoding, whilst it was also revealed that the next-generation Comcast XG5 MHG design would include four simultaneous transcodes, with designs in place from both Pace and ARRIS. Zenverge has also outlined a roadmap towards six-transcode parts.
Transcoders are semiconductors that decode digital video and re-encode it in another format. They also typically have the secure processing required to move premium video from one content protection system to another. For pay TV operators, transcoders enable MHGs to serve video directly to a range of devices - including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs - using adaptive bitrate video solutions. A number of US operators, including Comcast, DISH and DirecTV have been deploying standalone transcoders for a year or more - and US operators are now moving towards integrated transcoding in their second generation MHGs, as part of an in-home transcode-based multiscreen solution, further validating their near term relevance. Adding a transcoder to a MHG will typically add $15-20 to its cost, but a critical advantage of using such a system ahead of cloud-based services is the ability to transfer content to devices within the home without needing to renegotiate rights with content owners - contrary to the potential rights negotiations required for cloud services.
There are several aspects of the ViXS launch which make this a particularly pertinent development. Firstly, it can transcode six streams simultaneously, mirroring the six-stream limit imposed by CableCARDs on MHGs in the US Cable market - enabling operators to give unmanaged clients access to all 6 of the MHG's tuners through a single core SoC. Secondly, the ViXS chip not only adds the ability to improve the video quality to HEVC-capable devices over limited-speed connections - but more importantly, can serve HEVC-delivered video to legacy devices, by transcoding HEVC content to MPEG-4 and MPEG-2. This is part of a larger trend of the multimedia home gateway and thin client rollout, where legacy set-top boxes are given extended service lives by converting them, via a software update, into thin clients, such as Comcast is doing with its RNG150 non-DVR HD STBs.
The MHG is creating opportunities for new entrants into the high-end set-top box market. The proliferation of IP video and no-new-wire home networking that was a precursor to the MHG market funded Entropic, enabling it to buy the Conexant/NXP/Trident set-top box SoC business. Transcoding offers a similar opportunity. ViXS and Zenverge are just two of the new companies competing for the new transcoding sockets - in addition Broadcom has developed transcoding chips of its own. Transcoding is an extremely memory-intensive operation, and the speed of DDR-series memory busses has been identified by chipmakers as a key factor in transcoder architecture and costs. In the near term, the memory limitation has encouraged some STB makers to favor standalone transcoders with their own DRAM, creating a new socket. Others are favoring integrated transcoding SoC designs with a unified memory architecture.