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C-Cube's new chip hopes to be all things to all media

Meet Domino, C-Cube Microsystems' new omnivorous processor for home entertainment that is designed to decode and play back multiple data formats.

Meet Domino, C-Cube Microsystems' new omnivorous processor for home entertainment.

The Domino media processor architecture is designed to decode and play back multiple formats, including audio, video and data communications.

As a result, Milpitas, Calif.-based C-Cube hopes device makers will want to use Domino-based chips in a number of technologies, including DVD recorders, set-top boxes, digital video recorders and residential gateways.

C-Cube introduced the chip Saturday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"This is Moore's Law applied to the graphics market. We're taking the function of about six or seven chips and putting it into a single chip," Patrick Henry, senior vice president of marketing for the chipmaker, said Monday.

Analysts say now isn't a bad time to be in the media processor business.

That's because, although most of the initial crop of media processors that came on the market about seven years ago failed, the media chip has enjoyed a recent renaissance.

"There are several significant and meaningful new (media processor) chips, and they've got customers," said Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst with Micro Design Resources.

As consumer electronics devices have grown increasingly complex, it is not possible to use a general-purpose processor to do the job of sorting them all out, Glaskowsky said.

Domino offers support for nine or more audio, video, data and networking protocols.

The next 12 months, however, will be full of competition from the likes of Philips Semiconductor and newcomer Equator, Glaskowsky said.

"I thought mostly that Domino was C-Cube's offering in a space where a lot of companies have offerings," Glaskowsky said. "Too many people have designed chips just because the architecture looked cool."

The 12-year-old chipmaker is no stranger to the market for consumer electronics. It offered its first single-chip encoder/decoder for MPEG video. Its chips now are aimed at digital television, DVD players and set-top boxes.

Domino, representing C-Cube's fifth-generation media processor architecture, steps up the performance and lowers cost by integrating numerous functions into a single processor architecture.

C-Cube expects to have a direct hand in making DVD-recordable devices more mainstream. Although prices now hover around $2,000 for a DVD-recordable machine, C-Cube expects to see devices using chips based on Domino priced below $500 in the not-so-distant future.

"We have design wins with all of the major (DVD-recordable) drive formats," Henry said.

C-Cube also sees Domino at work in digital video recorders, which allow consumers to record television shows sans videotape.

Another application for Domino will likely come in handling multimedia and home network traffic for residential gateways. A residential gateway allows multiple networked devices in a home or a business to share one Internet connection.

Finally, Domino is likely to appear in a home media server, a device that resembles a set-top box on steroids. Such a device would include a hard drive and support DVD-recordable formats, allowing people listen to music and at the same time surf the Web or watch home videos.

"We'll be announcing products based on this architecture over the next 12 months," Henry said.