MIRICS TAKES YOUR TV MOBILE

by Jon Barad

Periodically, we’re using this blog to profile some of the companies that participated in NVIDIA’s Emerging Companies Summit. You can learn more about innovative companies that use NVIDIA’s GPU technology in the GPU Ventures Zone.

TV on the PC is one of those promised advances that everyone anticipates and everyone wants. But until now, the solutions that enable you to tune into broadcast signals on your PC have simply been too expensive, too clunky, or too limited to really get traction with PC manufacturers . . . or consumers. Mirics Semiconductor of Fleet, UK, is changing that with a flexible and cost-effective solution using NVIDIA GPUs that gives your TV a passport to anywhere in the world.

Recently, Mirics CEO Simon Atkinson met with NVIDIA VP of Business Development Jeff Herbst to talk about the company’s breakthrough technology and explain how it works. (You can also learn more in this presentation.)

To get TV (or any broadcast signal, such as radio, for that matter) on your PC, you need an RF tuner to grab the signal you want and a demodulator to extract the information from that signal. The problem is, most PCs don’t have an integrated antenna, and, until now, no solution has worked globally in a way that’s cost-effective for manufacturers. TV systems vary by country or region, and each has its own quirks. To make a PC that could pick up FM radio in the U.S., broadcast TV in Europe or mobile digital TV in Brazil, you’d need to pack that PC with dedicated hardware demodulators for each and every signal. Not exactly an attractive proposition for OEMs.

Mirics solved this problem by eliminating hardware demodulators. It moved the demodulation function to software and it made that software run on a GPU. With CUDA-enabled GPUs, the algorithms that do real-time signal processing are offloaded from the CPU, leaving plenty of headroom for other applications.

The resulting product, Mirics FlexiTV, combines the RF tuner with the software demodulator. It’s inexpensive enough at a $5 bill of materials (versus almost $15 for an all-hardware solution) that it can be embedded in consumer hardware. And it works with any terrestrial broadcast signal. For PC manufacturers, it offers great differentiation for low-cost laptops, netbooks, and PCs. For consumers, it’s an excellent standard and HD TV viewing experience.

Ultimately, of course, mobile TV won’t be limited to PCs. Mirics is looking at Tegra systems, with an eye to pushing its offerings onto smartphones. The vision is to provide every device with the capability of receiving high-quality broadcast signals anywhere on the globe.

In fact, Mirics just announced its new FlexiStream home server, which allows any FlexiTV-equipped Windows 7 PC to view or record TV and then to stream that content to any portable device in the household, whatever its location.