Smartphones are fast becoming the personal convergence device, replacing the digital cameras and camcorders as well as the portable PMPs (personal media players). However, there is another aspect to the convergence paradigm being played out at the residential level. Today's connected home has multiple devices for various purposes. For example, I have a modem and a wireless router to make sure that all my devices can connect to the Internet. I have also been through umpteen boxes bringing media from online streaming services as well as my NAS to the TV. Home control and automation systems (helping with energy management, home monitoring etc.) are also installed by service providers and commercial integrators. Wouldn't it be nice to have a single device to manage all these aspects? The icing on the cake would be if such a device were to be easily installed by the consumers themselves (saving money in the process for the service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon).

Today, Sigma Designs is launching [PDF] Skini, a reference platform for products aimed at changing the way consumers interact with the living room. A thin client with over-the-top (OTT) and cable / telco connectivity in one box, the Skini platform also benefits from being a part of the Z-Wave home control solution. The ease of use of the products based on this platform is supposed to make professional installation unnecessary.

The current crop of Smart TVs may bring the Internet to your living room. Unfortunately, putting OTT services like Netflix directly into a device that has a longer update cycle (consumers don't go out and buy a TV every two years) is not really a good idea. For example, your current TV might probably not support HD audio passthrough back to an AV receiver. It is not implausible that Netflix might be able to stream videos with HD audio in the future. It is beneficial for consumers to just update their WDTV-like box for enjoying the new feature, rather than buy a new TV. This makes the television a bad candidate for the home convergence device.

A set top box (not the traditional ones only, but includes media streamers too), on the other hand, has a much shorter update cycle. It makes definite sense for this to be the convergence device. Now, let us take a look at what Sigma Designs has put in Skini towards this:

  • Video Decoder [ Sigma Designs 8670 ]

This is the heart of the STB. Using a decoder chip targeted towards the IPTV market (the next-gen version of the SMP 8652 chip used in the Dune Lite) lowers the power consumption and BOM cost. For example, this chip requires only 32b DRAM instead of the 64b used in chips like the SMP 8643 / SMP 8655. Readers should note that this is not a decoder chip targeted towards the videophiles (so don't expect Blu-ray capabilities even for ISOs), but more towards OTT applications like Netflix. Sigma is undoubtedly one of the leading decoder SoC manufacturers for connected set top boxes, and we have no doubt that the appropriate SoC has been chosen for this platform.

  • Powerline Networking [ CG2110 ]

This enables Skini's networking capabilities. The platform doesn't need to be equipped with an Ethernet port or a Wifi solution because it can grab content from the network using this section. Conforming to the 200 Mbps HomePlug AV standards, the CG2110 is a product from Sigma's CopperGate acquisition. With ClearPath technology (which I had covered here earlier), this product looks pretty capable. However, my main source of worry is that I am yet to spot this chip in any retail shipping powerline networking product. Sigma Designs indicated that products based on the chip are not in the retail market, but only being shipped to service providers. I am trying to find out more information about who they are.

  • Z-Wave Wireless RF Home Control

Z-Wave is the defacto standard for wireless RF communication within the home. With the integration of Z-Wave technology, the Skini becomes another part of the connected home. Due to its RF nature, any product based on Skini can be easily hidden behind the display, and yet be remote controlled. In addition, becoming a part of the Z-Wave mesh network also enables it to control other connected devices.
 

The Skini platform looks to be a good first step towards making convergence in a residential setting realistic and affordable. However, the networking gateway aspect remains incomplete as yet. Consumers using devices based on Skini still need a router / modem to connect their network to the outside world. Residential gateways based on G.hn silicon can interface with either coax (cable) or phone lines (DSL) to connect to the service providers' networks. We will have to wait for Sigma's G.hn products to mature before the next convergence step is taken.

All the technologies involved in Skini seem to be based on market proven technologies. Only the powerline networking segment continues to remain an unknown entity outside the Sigma Designs labs. ODMs picking up the Skini platform can be expected to launch products in the market around a year or so from now.

UPDATE: The official press release is linked here [PDF]. We were given to understand during the briefing last week that the reference platform would be named 'Skini'. However, the PR today doesn't have any special tag for it. We are letting our news piece stand as-is.

 

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  • therealnickdanger - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Z-Wave is *not* the "defacto standard for wireless RF communication within the home". You can buy wireless RF devices and adapters for any system: UPB, X10, Insteon, Control4, etc. Reply
  • mammothboy - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Copying from a press release is a bit more excusable when there is more analysis and commentary, this is rather weak. I'd rather just read the press release. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    1. The press release link is updated. There is no mention of the word 'de-facto' in that release. The number of companies utilizing Z-Wave and the number of devices supporting that control protocol is what made me refer to it as 'de-facto'. If I am not wrong, even Control4 can interface with Z-Wave devices now.

    2. As for 'weak analysis', let me recount what I have presented that is NOT in the press release. Points (a) and (b) are 'partial' to Sigma Designs because that is the company we are covering today. Points (c) and (d) are 'critical' of Sigma Designs because we want to present a balanced view.

    (a) Talk about residential convergence, which I think is what Sigma hopes to achieve in the long run.

    (b) Talk about why SmartTV is not a great idea because people would rather upgrade $100 boxes rather than $1000 TVs.

    (c) Make sure consumers aren't going to expect a full featured media player (this is mainly for OTT content, not local media playback over USB)

    (d) Note that the powerline networking segment is largely unproven outside the demos we have seen.

    If you believe this press release warrants more analysis / commentary, please do let me know what more could have been added.
    Reply
  • aldiswilson - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link


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  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I own a Popcorn Hour C-200 content streamer that utilizes a Sigma Designs processor. While Syabas (its vendor) has worked hard to support its users, Sigma Designs has had a number of issues helping developers support their own chips, leading to multiple minor annoyances for a number of users, as well as difficulty in developing new features and a new UI that have been promised. I know that Syabas is not alone in their issues, and that other vendors using Sigma processors have had their issues as well.

    The press release makes it sound really nice --but a press release isn't a product, it's what a vendor wants a product to be or hopes it will be, sometimes even when it is not.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I agree that the Sigma based products have some minor annoyances for users and devs alike. However, the lack of a viable alternative in the market ties the hands of the product vendors. We have some competition from Intel (CE4100), but it is too power hungry. The closest competitor is actually Realtek, but they are handicapped by the lack of Blu-ray ISO / menu capability. Unless we see Realtek pulling up its socks and catering to the mid to high range media streamer boxes, I guess the devs have to go with Sigma solutions.

    Also, note that Sigma Designs is a silicon vendor. They announce platforms / chips which the ODMs can take up and make into a product and in turn sell it to the brand names who then bring it to the market shelves. This process usually takes 12 - 18 months. Usually, if the company says they expect products based on the silicon to be in the market within 6 months, expect it to be a year. (We are yet to see SMP 8656 based products in the market, though demos were shown last October itself by TViX, for example).
    Reply
  • epobirs - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    When is the last time you saw a new display you'd want to park equipment atop? (Aside from special mounts for things like the Kinect sensor.) The term 'settop' increasingly has no meaning in the modern entertainment center. Reply

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