Digital entertainment in China: Latest technology, Chinese standards and more value for happy consumers

Peter Weigand, Chairman, Micronas Semiconductor R&D (Shanghai) Co Ltd)

The digitalisation in the world of consumer electronics pushes the demand for advanced technologies to fulfil the ultimate requirements of end customers: easy to use, reliable and affordable electronic devices -- which at the same time must bring more value to the end user than today's consumer solutions for their success in the market place.

As one of leading players in these fields Micronas provides most advanced semiconductor system solutions to enable the emergence of digital consumer applications. In addition Micronas has an established relationship with a majority of the world's most important consumer electronic device manufacturers and brands, among those are several Chinese companies. In its long term commitment to serve the Chinese consumer markets, Micronas has recently set up a Research & Development Center in Shanghai, which will focus on providing locally optimized digital entertainment solutions for applications like TVs, set top boxes and PCs or even totally advanced solutions (e.g. mobile TV in cars, trains or busses).

Much better image quality of latest generations of flat-panel TV sets is perceived by many end customers as one of the most obvious improvements of digital over analogue technology. Furthermore digital transmission of TV signals can provide more channels to the advantage of both the end customer and the broadcasting company. The experience in USA and Europe show, however, that the transition from analogue to digital transmission requires a joint effort of content providers, broadcasters and technology providers - and it needs the strong backing from government side to push the digital standardization and to provide the legal framework to drive the transition. The introduction of DVB-T in Europe is accompanied by a defined schedule of the governments to switch off the analogue transmission. In the USA congress has provided a legal framework which requires that certain TV sets sold already today include the technology for digital reception. By 2007 all devices being able to receive terrestrial TV signals and sold in the USA must be digital.

The Chinese market has seen some promising steps towards digital transmission when local governments in major cities pushed the digital broadcast over the already widely available cable infrastructure and the deployment of digital set top boxes to citizens' households to receive the advanced services. Unfortunately this progress is a very fragmented one with different technology solutions in different cities, which results in a rather low adoption rate of about 2.5 million digital cable subscribers by the end of this year compared to more than 100 million analogue cable subscribers nationwide according to a recent publication of iSuppli Corporation. These results call for a joint effort of the local governments and the involved companies to unify the hardware and software requirements of cable set top boxes and very promising technology proposals seem to be available from Chinese experts. The effort shall enable the high volume manufacturing of the consumer devices to drive costs down and ultimately make the product more attractive for the end user. China has also shown an open attitude to adopt new TV technologies: e.g. in Shanghai many public busses are equipped with digital terrestrial receivers and provide an over-the-air TV program for their customers.

This kind of TV service in busses, trains or cars is only possible by using advanced digital transmission technologies. Various official statements have been made concerning the standardization of the digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) technology in China. Many observers assume that China will adopt its own standard for DTT and that China will not join either the European DVB or the American ATSC camp, both having technology solutions available today. Considering that one of the major events for the media industry will be the Beijing Olympics in 2008, an urgent call for action to finalize the standardization process seems appropriate. In order to provide the DTT technology and to deploy it to a significant amount of Chinese subscribers by 2008 the Chinese government officials will need to closely cooperate with the Chinese technology experts and finally cut down their decision times.

With the deployment of digital transmission technologies, one of the most stunning experiences since the introduction of colour TV will become available to end users: high definition TV. Crystal clear images at a resolution four times higher than today's standard TVs and surround audio technology allow consumers - at home in their living rooms - to get the feeling of being in a cinema or of being part of the live audience of a sports event. Furthermore advanced applications like watching digital photos on the TV or watching two TV channels at the same time finally can be enjoyed with the desired quality. The availability of high definition TVs with a resolution of more than 2 M pixels will also drive the deployment of the emerging home net working and internet based TV technologies, both of them ultimately requiring an optimized visual interface to allow the end users to easily navigate through a nearly infinite amount of content and to personalize its consumption. Also in the field of high definition TV China has made advanced developments by having introduced new DVD technologies, but further actions of government and providers are required to standardize the broadcast technology and to provide attractive high definition content to the consumers.

Micronas is developing today the semiconductor solutions to power the digital consumer applications of tomorrow and the Micronas R&D Center in Shanghai is committed to cooperate with Chinese institutions and to support the requirements of Chinese electronic device manufacturers. This represents an exciting opportunity for each Micronas team member to contribute to the advancement of digital consumer semiconductor developments in China - and ultimately to contribute to the advancement of Chinese people's lifestyle.

(October 12, 2005)

Copyright 2004 by All rights reserved.