Games spur demand for set-top products
Mainland set-top box manufacturers are scrambling to deliver advanced products domestically, as demand for higher-performance digital television broadcast services heats up before the Beijing Olympic Games.
Industry experts said the country's rapid conversion from analogue to digital broadcasting has led set-top-box makers to increase production to meet the requirements of service providers across the mainland.
'As the transition to digital cable accelerates, we are seeing more companies searching for ways to shorten product development cycles,' said John Graham, vice-president of marketing at United States-based Entropic Communications, a supplier of semiconductors used in digital television set-top boxes.
Among the leading mainland set-top box manufacturers are Sichuan Jiuzhou Electronic Technology, Skyworth Group, Sichuan Changhong Network Science and Technology, and Coship Electronics.
Mr Graham said the mainland's cable television broadcasters had made implementation of high-end digital cable set-top boxes a priority in anticipation of existing and newly signed domestic subscribers watching the Games this August on digital television sets.
Beijing-based CCID Consulting estimated there were 27 million new digital mainland television users last year, of whom 12 million were cable digital television subscribers.
Essential features expected from higher-end set-top boxes include support for high-definition viewing, improved picture clarity, video recording functionality, and interactive services, such as video-on-demand and pay-per-view.
'About 14 million Chinese digital cable set-top boxes were shipped last year, and shipments are expected to reach 17.6 million units in 2012,' said Anty Zheng, a vice-president on the mainland at US research firm In-Stat.
That steady rise in demand for advanced set-top boxes on the mainland led recently to a string of alliances between cable set-top makers and key technology suppliers, and a strategic acquisition of a domestic player by a large US company.
Coship, the mainland's largest maker and exporter of set-top boxes, collaborated with US semiconductor supplier Broadcom Corp to deliver the first commercial high-definition video set-top box in the domestic market last month.
'We hope to bring advanced set-top box products, value-added services with richer functions, and a better user experience to the Chinese television market,' said Bright Yuan, chief executive of Coship.
The company's N8603 high-definition set-top box model, based on Broadcom's new high-definition BCM7403 system-on-a-chip solution, offers a wide range of video-compression standards, interactive features, networked personal video recording and more control and flexibility when watching television.
Jiuzhou Electronics has partnered Entropic to make set-top boxes for digital video broadcasting in cable television systems and hybrid fibre cable networks.
'We are seeing high demand for more integration and increased performance requirements. These have created the need for innovation and new approaches, such as silicon tuners for digital set-top box applications,' said vice-general manager Wang Qiang.
Japanese firm Oki Electric Industry, semiconductor giant Intel Corp and Huashu Digital TV, a cable television network operator in Zhejiang province, have jointly developed a hybrid set-top box that can be used for cable television firms' digital video broadcasting requirements and internet-protocol television services from telecommunications network operators.
Zhou Hong, vice-general manager at Huashu Digital TV, said the box's development was driven by Huashu, Intel and Oki's goal to enable carriers to boost their average revenue per user, while promoting 'home digitalisation, enhanced network intelligence and meeting the needs of multiple home applications'.
The hybrid platform is designed to let viewers enjoy high-definition broadcasts, video-on-demand and future services such as three-dimensional graphics.
In February, telecommunications equipment maker Motorola acquired the digital cable set-top production assets of Zhejiang Dahua Digital Technology and Hangzhou Image Silicon for an undisclosed amount.
'Chinese digital cable is rapidly growing, presenting an important opportunity for Motorola to extend its existing business in set-top boxes,' said Simon Leung Lim-kin, president of Motorola Asia-Pacific.
Motorola is a leading supplier of cable television set-top boxes, having shipped more than 50 million units worldwide. It also leads in internet-protocol set-top boxes, with shipments of more than two million units.