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Philips throws down chip gauntlet

The Dutch electronics giant takes on Intel and other chipmakers, with plans to market a mobile multimedia chip that's already being used in a Sony Ericsson smart phone.

Royal Philips Electronics is to step up its competition with Intel and other chipmakers next year with a new mobile processor.

The surprise is that many gadget buyers by then will have already been using Philips' Nexperia Mobile Multimedia Processor, as it powers Sony Ericsson's P800 smart phone, as Philips revealed this week.

The tri-band P800 handset, on sale in Europe since November, combines a handheld computer, a camera, multimedia playback, Internet connectivity and other features with a standard cell phone. Its closest competitors are smart phones from Nokia and from Taiwanese contract manufacturer High Tech Computing, which are based on competing technology such as STMicroelectronics' Nomadik chips and Intel's Xscale.

Texas Instruments, with its Open Multimedia Applications Protocol (OMAP) platform, and Motorola are also leading players in the mobile chip market.

"Seeing such multimedia-rich handsets from Sony Ericsson being so successful on the market, and featuring our multimedia processor, is a new proof-point of our mobile multimedia leadership," Mario Rivas, a Philips executive vice president, said in a statement.

The move to sell the Mobile Multimedia Processor on the general market is part of Philips' efforts to take advantage of a new wave of multimedia-enabled cell phones. The company admitted this week that it had largely missed out on the boom in devices such as cell phones and DVD players in the 1990s, but it is betting on more advanced gadgets to gain lost ground.

It also reflects a shift in the cell phone handset business from using purpose-built ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) to general-purpose chips.

Philips said it is hoping to sign up Samsung as a customer. Samsung, Nokia, Siemens and other major cell phone makers have signed up to create smart phones based on the Symbian operating system, the same used by the P800, although the smart phone market remains unproven.

The Nexperia system-on-a-chip (SoC) includes an ARM9 core (from U.K.-based chip designer ARM), a digital signal processor core and hardware accelerators for such multimedia codecs as MPEG-4 and JPEG. It supports color touch screens, built-in cameras, organizer functions, Bluetooth wireless and Internet access, among other features.

Philips is already a supplier of mobile ASIC chips to Ericsson through VLSI Technology, which the electronics company acquired in 1999.

ZDNet UK's Matthew Broersma reported from London.