Marvell wants to be the brains of smart TVs. And so far, it is doing alright. The company says that its Armada 1500 video chips will be inside a couple of new Smart TV products that will be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Marvell’s flagship TV chip will be the brains inside the Netgear NeoTV Prime with Google TV. That’s a new set-top box (pictured below) that will let users access many different video services (from Netflix to Hulu) as well as live TV at the same time. The Netgear box runs Google TV software and it represents a big effort to win consumers over to Smart TVs, which are web-connected boxes that deliver both internet content and broadcast TV shows.
The dual-core chips are new versions of the Armada 1500 platform that Marvell launched a year ago for Smart TV applications.
The Armada 1500 is also part of the Lenovo S-Series Smart TVs that run the Android operating system. The system was announced in October but it will be on display at CES. Lenovo’s TV is being sold in China but it may be offered worldwide at some point.
“This is going to be the big year of Smart TV,” said Weili Dai (pictured above), co-founder of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Marvell, in an interview with VentureBeat. “The opportunity is now bigger for everybody.”
Smart TVs have been slow in coming. But Dai said that the spread of broadband, real-time streaming technology, and the availability of live content are making a big difference in acceptance now.
“The ecosystem is stronger and Android has seen huge success,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before content on smartphones and tablets moves to the big screen. It’s a big snowball effect.”
The Marvell chips have dropped in price from a year ago and they have features such as multiple cores, 3D graphics, and sophisticated video processing. The Armada chips use the low-power ARM architecture and are small enough so that the Netgear box is quite small. At some point, Dai expects that such a box will fit in a tiny dongle that you plug into a TV’s USB port.
The $130 Netgear box uses features such as picture-in-picture, which allows you to watch a show even while you are searching the web. You can access apps such as games on the Google Play store, or use video services such as Netflix or Amazon. With cheaper boxes and a variety of business models for content services, consumers are bound to accept Smart TVs faster, Dai said.
I tried out the Lenovo TV and played a Gameloft racing game, Asphalt Adrenaline 6, using a TV remote control. I crashed a lot but eventually got the hang of it. The TV can display internet content and it has a rotating 3D user interface.
Dai said new members of the Armada family are under design. The company will make chips for 4K Ultra HD TVs as well as other new gadgets. But those new chips aren’t ready t be unveiled yet.
Update: At CES, Marvell showed Agawi’s cloud-gaming service running on the Armada platform. That means it’s easy to get Flash-based games from the PC to run on the Smart TV platform.