Archive for October, 2005

Warner to back Blu-ray and HD-DVD format

Monday, October 24th, 2005

The latest in the battle for the new high definition DVD standard – Warner to back Blu-ray and HD-DVD format. Warner Bros. Entertainment, till now a key HD-DVD backer among the Hollywood studios announced that it’ll release films on Blu-ray format too.

The recent issue of Business Week has a very well written article giving the synopsis of the struggles in this standard.

The key entities in this format war are:
A. Consumer Electronics
1. Sony has a lot at stake in this standard. It’s a triple gain for them if Blu-ray becomes the industry format:
- Royalties from sale of all the Blu-ray disks sold
- Resurgence in it’s movie biz through DVD sales
- High sales in electronic gear (HDTVs, movie cameras, Blu-ray optical drives and most importantly – it’s new PlayStation game consoles which will include a Blu-ray drive for playing movies

2. Toshiba would like to continue the inflow of royalty payments coming from it’s current DVDs through it’s HD-DVD patents.

3. Others : HDTV and DVD drive makers

B. Media
With Warner supporting Blu-ray format too, the Sony camp has now 5 of 6 film studios. Sony’s safeguards developed to prevent Blu-ray movies from being ripped to a computer’s hard drive strengthened support for it’s format from the studios.

C. PC industry
1. Microsoft, Intel : They stand a lot to gain if PC were to emerge as a hub for digital entertainment. Microsoft has an additional issue – game console war with Sony. While Microsoft had decided to hold down costs by not including a next generation DVD player in the Xbox console (and instead stream HD content from a PC to a console which could be attached to a TV), Sony said that it’ll include Blu-ray in the next PlayStation game console beginning next year. Plus it decided not to use Microsoft’s iHD technology to add interactive features to Blu-ray disks, opting instead for Java based technology. Microsoft says that Blu-rays disks will be more expensive to manufacture; others do not see any big cost difference.
Both Microsoft and Intel back Toshiba’s HD-DVD format.

2. Dell, HP, Apple: They back Blu-ray. Dell and HP sell HDTVs too.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between the two formats, HP has recently urged the other Blu-ray members to support 2 key technologies (currently supported in HD-DVD): Managed Copy (lets users make legitimate copies of their HD movies) and iHD (Microsoft’s techno for interactive features).

There looks to be only 1 winner………

Design trends & EDA tools : China & Taiwan

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

I recently read the latest report from EE Times and Gartner Dataquest on Design Trends & EDA Tools : China & Taiwan. It can be accessed from their website

The report makes a very interesting reading and made me ponder on a few points…….

ASIC Design segment

A. Application segment
While consumer applications remained the major application segment in Taiwan (as was in ’04 too), it displaced Telecom/Datacom in China to be the major one there too. Some possible underlying reasons (apart from generic market conditions) could be
· Telecom/Datacom designs have traditionally been using the leading edge process geometry. The rising mask costs associated with them could have been a factor of the decrease in new ASIC designs.
· The varied & vast set of categories within the consumer applications mkt. abets more ASIC designs and spin-offs.
· More consumer ASICs are coming out with the rapid growth of the China consumer mkt.

B. Gate Count
The general increase in the gate count follows the rising complexity which is also aided by the integration of various functions/categories in a single product.
Majority of the respondents working on large designs are companies that are local subsidiaries of foreign companies or local ventures – not joint ventures with foreign companies. This is mostly due to the high costs involved in large & complex designs. It makes sense for joint ventures with foreign companies to focus on the local marketing & enhance their foreign partner’s footprint in the local mkt.

C. Process Geometry
China figures indicate a more rapid embracing of newer technos.
The 0.18um in Taiwan, apart from remaining the predominant node for the past 3 years, has grown from 35% from last year to 44% while the 0.13um has increased from 13% to 23%.
0.18um is still the dominant node in China. However, it’s share has slightly decreased from 49% to 45%. But it’s in the 0.13um that we see the real increase – 12% to 31%

D. IP core usage rate
EDA companies’ share has decreased and has been correctly attributed to their partnering with foundries. With the increasing complexities and the focus going more towards Design for Yield, it is natural for foundries to play a major role in this partnership with EDA vendors/3rd party IP suppliers. The growing complexity of selecting the right IP & the subsequent issues seen during their integration in the design compel companies resort to developing them in-house. The marked surge in the independent 3rd party suppliers is also due the fact that they specialize in their niche IPs & these IPs are their main products.

EDA tools usage
Increasing reliability and reduced costs are the paramount factors for the electronic designers in Taiwan (increased functionality is no longer the most important goal) while increased functionality and reduced cost are the most important goals for the designers in China.

This possibly indicates a more mature market (in terms of EDA tools usage) in Taiwan where they seem to be more conversant and satisfied with the various functionality features offered by the EDA tools and hence are focusing more on reliability i.e. fewer issues while going through the design flow and hence shortening their time to market.
Cost reduction remains common; not surprising where Consumer applications is the predominant market.

Will Structured ASICs be successful ?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Comments on the above article (written by Vince Hopkins in Electronic News)……..

Tweak a bit here and there for it’s derivatives, term it in various categories, yes, the bottom line is identical value propositions i.e. reduced NRE and faster time to market which have become critical factors in the transient markets and DSM technos.

So, one has variants: a 90% ready netlist which at least in concept can readily accept limited design changes as per multiple customer requirements and drastically reduce the design cycle time to semi fabricated design slices ready for custom metallization for final customer designs.

ASIC vendors providing both traditional ASIC (cell based) and Structured ASIC capabilities hold an added advantage for the customer if he does decide to transit later from structured to regular ASIC i.e. for higher volumes with cost reduction. Filling the gap of the mid range market, it’s given another option for customers sitting on the FPGA/ASIC fence.

UMC’s Hu envisions a new model for foundry business

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Comments on “UMC’s Hu envisions a new model for foundry business” in Electronic Engineering Times by Ron Wilson

While it’s true that the leading foundries in this age must have the capabilities of an integrated device manufacturer, the transition from foundry to solutions provider is not an altogether new biz model nor is it an entirely different vision for foundry companies.

Quite a few years back, when foundries, especially in Taiwan, realized that low cost was no longer sufficient for their intended growth, they started focusing more on their IP portfolios. Design support also evolved into working on actual design issues and in some cases offering design services.

To cite a few……
TSMC offers IP portfolio, Design Centre Alliance, In house and 3rd party library services and Assembly & Testing services to some extent.
Chartered offers IP Access & Design Access.

Some are transitioning into this model with 3rd party collaboration while some try to develop it in-house. Foundries also hold an additional advantage in addressing DFM issues.

ASIC makers piece together their options

Saturday, October 1st, 2005

Refering to “ASIC makers piece together their options” – Ron Wilson & Brian Fuller in EE Times

In an ideal world, the various entities i.e. Design company, foundry, EDA vendor, Packaging, Testing etc. will work together with the customer in a free information flow environment (albeit respecting each others IP rights). Bolstered by the information flow, they can provide collectively the customer with an optimal product (good design, good yield) whilst retaining their focus on their individual targets – and their bottom lines.

But, alas, it’s not the world we live in. And hence we see various strategies for surviving in this market - Fujitsu Microelectronics may be alleviating it’s new process risk costs by spreading it across it’s internal customers and LSI Logic by going fabless while sustaining itself on it’s excellent IP portfolio etc. – as cited in the article.

The partnership model between Chartered, IBM and Samsung will be interesting to watch - what with the potential of a customer being able to tape out with any of the 3 partners and then be able to select any of the 3 (not necessarily the same) as the foundry. How many ASIC semiconductor companies i.e. with both design & foundry capabilities, would be willing to go through the ASIC development only to see another company being chosen as the foundry ? ASICs are still taken up for their final revenues based on ASPs and not just the NREs. Or is this leading to supplementing of required know-how while possibly complementing on other skill-sets ??