MRAM for VOD? Not for a while
Freescale Semiconductor stirred up some buzz earlier this month with the introduction of what was described as the first commercial Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) device for volume production.
Freescale, a Motorola chip spin-off, claimed the new entrant, in this case a four-megabit MRAM device dubbed the MR2A16A, features the speed of SRAM with the "non-volatility" of Flash.
Initially, Freescale is targeting the technology to small memory footprint products such as printers, data cache buffers, and even some home security products.
Since RAM, specifically D-RAM, has become a platform of choice (or at least another storage and streaming option) for some video-on-demand vendors, I was interested to know if MRAM had any potential as a video server technology.
The answer? Probably not…or at least not for a long, long time.
Micrograph of multiple
4 megabit die on a silicon
wafer. Source: Freescale
Broadbus Technologies, which just inked a deal to be acquired by Motorola Inc. (for details, please see story further below), tracks all solid state memory technologies and attempts to understand their applications…just as any other vendor in the sector does. And MRAM just isn't on the VOD technology radar due to its lack of density and high costs, according to Frank Stifter, Broadbus' engineering director and hardware architect.
While the initial MRAM product is 4 megabits, DRAM is a 512 megabit part, moving to 1 gigabit; and commodity Flash is about 4 gigabit (moving to 16). "Those are the targets they need to go after to make it viable in our space," Stifter said.
MRAM also doesn't hit the right mark on the cost-per-bit scale.
According to Stifter's calculations, MRAM is in the range of $25 per megabit. Video servers, however, tend to measure costs in the per megabyte range. DRAM is about 7 cents per megabyte, Flash is about a penny per Megabyte, and disk storage is about 1/10 of a penny per megabyte.
Although MRAM is still in its infancy, physical limitations of the technology may make it difficult for it to reach densities for VOD, and the costs are just nowhere close to optimal, Stifter explained.
MRAM may have a raft of applications it can support near-term, but one of those applications is not VOD, apparently.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Editor in Chief, CED magazine and xOD Capsule
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, as Boxborough, Mass.-based Broadbus is a private company. However, Private Equity Week reported earlier this week that the deal is valued at roughly $186 million in cash, producing a sizable windfall for Broadbus investors such as Comcast Interactive, Battery Ventures, Star Ventures, and Charles River Ventures.
Broadbus was founded in 1999. The deal is expected to close in Q3.
On the product front, the deal
will give Motorola access to
two servers that are based on
DRAM technology. The flagship
B1 (top) supplies up to 1.28
terabytes of DRAM and a
maximum of 80 GigE ports.
The smaller SBB1 can hold up
to 128 gigabytes of DRAM,
and support up to 8 GigE ports.
Broadbus, which uses a high-capacity, solid-state DRAM streaming and ingest architecture that figures to play prominently in forthcoming network-based DVR services, has scored more than 60 VOD deployments with operators such as Adelphia Communications, Charter Communications, Comcast Cable, Rogers Cable, and Time Warner Cable. Those deployments have been a mix of new installations and switchouts of existing VOD systems.
Broadbus is also developing a system that applies business rules to network-based DVR services.
In Broadbus, Motorola will add an important VOD technology component to its digital video product lineup, which already includes a range of set-tops, MPEG-2 encoders, digital headends, and the widely used Mediacipher conditional access system. Motorola also plans to leverage Broadbus for switched digital broadcast, a bandwidth-saving technique already being championed by operators such as Time Warner Cable.
Motorola noted that the new technology will also give it the ability to transcode video and other content for a range of devices, including mobile units.
"The addition of Broadbus Technologies will bring Motorola's video delivery platform one step closer to enabling this vision of seamless mobility by providing us with field-proven content management and delivery solutions," said Dan Moloney, president of Motorola's Connected Home Solutions division, in a statement.
It will also give Motorola some competitive leverage should Cisco Systems Inc., which purchased Motorola digital video rival Scientific Atlanta in January for $6.9 billion, decide to move ahead with a VOD acquisition of its own, with the mostly widely viewed candidate being Arroyo Video Solutions, a startup that is teed up to provide the server component of Cablevision System Corp.'s ambitious RS-DVR (remote storage-digital video recorder) project, which is presently delayed pending a court decision expected sometime this fall.
Arroyo officials declined to comment on rumors that the company is an acquisition target of Cisco's or other possible parties.
A Motorola-Broadbus marriage has also fueled speculation that other VOD vendors could be ripe for acquisition. C-COR Inc. kicked off the trend when it picked up nCUBE in early 2005 for approximately $89.5 million.
Concurrent Computer Corp., following a recent cost-cutting move that involved the laying off of 7 percent of its staff, is viewed as yet another acquisition target in the ultra-competitive VOD server and software sector. Speaking last week on a conference call with analysts and reporters, Concurrent CEO Gary Trimm reportedly said a sale of all or part of the company is possible should the right deal emerge, but that it's not a strategy Concurrent is pursuing on its own.
CinemaNow lets consumers burn films to DVD
Following in the footsteps of Movielink's recent announcement, CinemaNow has unveiled a beta service that allows consumers to not only download movies but to also burn those films to DVD.
The participating studios are offering a slate of about 100 older but still popular titles, such as "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "Scent of a Woman" and "Barbershop." The content they're making available suggests they're still approaching the service as an experiment, primarily to find out if the anti-piracy technology CinemaNow has implemented - called fluxDVD - works and resists being hacked.
Customers can buy films for about $9 each. They download the movies to PCs equipped with Windows Media Player and a DVD player with write capability, and burn DVDs from there.
Participating studios include Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Lions Gate, MGM Worldwide Digital Media, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, EagleVision and Sundance Channel.
CTAM: Digital driving premium fare, DVR penetration
Digital cable services tend to prime the pump for more advanced services and applications such as digital video recorders (DVRs), according to a new Pulse report conducted by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM).
According to CTAM's study, the number of cable homes with a DVR has more than doubled -- from 17 percent in 2006 versus just 7 percent in 2005. Moreover, 30 percent of digital cable homes have a DVR, compared to 22 percent of homes that take satellite television services. Of those digital cable homes with DVRs, 74 percent use a cable operator-supplied device.
That trend also extends to large screen televisions, with about 55 percent ownership among premium digital cable and satellite customers. CTAM said one-third of homes that purchased a new TV in the past four years reported owning a hi-def set. About 42 percent of premium cable and 40 percent of satellite customers, and 35 percent of digital cable subs own HD sets, CTAM's study showed.
Keeping with a trend that there could still be plenty of consumer confusion about HDTV, only half (52 percent) of HDTV set owners report having hi-def service. Of those that receive an HD service, 66 percent of homes get it from cable, versus 33 percent from DBS.
Deploy Digeo, beef up your VOD numbers
Digeo Inc.'s set-top navigation system and interface may not be deployed everywhere, but it is generating some decent VOD usage where it is being offered by Adelphia Communications, which is in the process of being divided up by Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable.
The Moxi On Demand interface
Digeo said Adelphia data from early 2006 in "select markets" show that the percentage of Moxi customers who order VOD content is more than double the number of customers with VOD who don't have access to Digeo's system.
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