Multi-tuner chips will deliver faster TV channel changing and wireless video viewing experiences

In the coming months, consumers will be able to watch recorded digital movies on a wide variety of platforms, from TVs in the bedroom to tablet computers, according to a technology briefing by chip maker Broadcom today.

The same processing technology that makes it easy to watch a high-end movie on a small tablet or smartphone could also make changing channels on digital TV sets almost instantaneous. It shows that faster and cheaper chips can allow for new kinds of convenient consumer electronics features for couch potatoes.

The crux of the technology is the TV tuner in a set-top box. These Broadcom chips can now have as many as eight tuners on a single chip, making it economical for a set-top box to act as a better home gateway, or a device that slings digital video to a variety of devices. In the past, set-tops such as digital video recorders only had two to four tuners in a box, said Stephen Palm (pictured), senior technical director at Broadcom’s communications group, in an interview.

“With eight tuners, we can now start decoding more than one channel at a time,” Palm said.

Digital video streams are often sent to homes in multiple streams. The set-top box — like a cable machine or digital video recorder — can decode one stream and display it on the TV. But the other tuners can also decode pieces of adjacent channels so that they can be quickly processed and displayed instantaneously when someone advances up or down one channel with a remote control. Normally, it can take two seconds or more to change a channel from one digital video stream to another.

With eight tuners on a chip, a set-top box could become a better gateway. This new kind of multi-room gateway is necessary because people will want to be able to watch their home entertainment on just about any device. Video is already a big on mobile devices, but the smartphones and tablets don’t have much horsepower for processing video. Palm said that a new set-top with the eight-tuner chip could play video on a TV, and at the same time it could distribute video wirelessly to a TV in another room. It could also “transcode,” or convert video for the TV so that it can be viewable on a portable device.

Thus, the set-top box “home gateway” could be like a hydra, a multi-headed beast delivering video to a variety of machines in the home at the same time. The gateway could use cable, powerline, or wireless networking to distribute the video simultaneously, Palm said.

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