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Choosing the right silicon TV tuner IC

Posted: 16 Nov 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TV tuner IC  flat-panel  mixer oscillator phase-locked loop 

Silicon TV tuner ICs are rapidly displacing legacy mixer oscillator phase-locked loop (MOPLL) CAN tuner technologies to reduce cost and size and improve performance. Silicon tuner IC adoption began before 2007 and gained real traction during 2010 when flat-panel TVs and set-top boxes (STBs) saw a significant increase in sales. Designing silicon TV tuners that matched MOPLL performance levels was the main hurdle for adoption, but once semiconductor suppliers met this performance standard, the road was cleared for silicon tuner IC shipments to accelerate. Several suppliers now offer a wide variety of silicon TV tuner products. Navigating the competing options can be a complex process given the wide range of issues surrounding TV tuner IC selection. Putting these technical issues into perspective will help simplify the TV tuner selection process.

State of the market
TV market demand has grown to an amazing 230 million units (Mu) per year across a wide range of regions. The broader TV market breaks down into two segments relevant to TV tuner ICs: integrated digital television (iDTV) platforms (approximately 160 Mu) and analogue-only TVs (approximately 70 Mu), which consist of both flat-panel TVs and analogue-processed CRT TVs.

Analogue-processed CRT TVs employ an older image processing technology. In contrast, flat panel TVs incorporate advanced DSP-based image processor SoCs supplied by companies such as Broadcom, MediaTek, MStar, Novatech and Sunplus Technology. Some major TV brands also have their own internal semiconductor teams that build captive flat-panel SoCs. Analogue-processed CRT TVs use less capable microcontrollers and cannot easily accommodate silicon tuner IC programming and configuration. These analogue-processed TVs are likely to retain the older MOPLL CAN tuner implementations, which often require more than 150 separate components (figure 1). Flat-panel platforms employ modern high-performance processors that run a substantial amount of firmware so they are well positioned to configure modern digital devices such as silicon TV tuner ICs.

Figure 1: Example of MOPLL CAN tuner, which requires 150+ components. Top of PCB (left) and bottom of PCB (right).

Many TVs must support both analogue and digital transmission standards to meet consumer demands. Examples of analogue transmission standards include NTSC and PAL/SECAM. In this case, the word "analogue" describes the transmission modulation format and not the specific processing technology used to decode it. Many countries are in various stages of executing their analogue switch-over plans where the terrestrial analogue broadcasts will be terminated and replaced with higher quality digital broadcasts. Yet even in countries that have theoretically made the hard cut over to digital, the analogue transmissions remain active, and consumers continue to demand support for these transmissions. Japan is perhaps an exception, having achieved a true conversion to all digital, but TVs sold in virtually every other region are forced to retain analogue reception capability to deal with low-power analogue broadcasts, slow-to-upgrade cable networks and legacy consumer electronics devices. Tuner support for analogue transmissions will be required by all major TV brands for TVs outside of Japan for at least five more years and likely for ten more years.

Numerous TV platforms accept content from both terrestrial and cable sources. As a practical matter, these platforms must support analogue transmissions as long as the multi-subscriber operators (MSOs) continue to transmit analogue content on their cable networks. Cable and terrestrial STB segments add an additional 175 million systems of demand per year.

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