Broadcom Corp. added more fuel to the advanced codec fire in December, announcing its first silicon that supports the H.264/MPEG-4 standard.

Available in samples now with widescale release expected this month, the BCM 7411 decoder chip is aimed at consumer markets.

"It enables manufacturers to cost-effectively roll out set-top boxes, DVD players, consumer entertainment equipment with advanced compression technology, and it offers operators cost savings through lower bandwidth," says Brian Sprague, senior director of marketing in Broadcom's broadband business unit.

The H.264/MPEG-4 technology is an outgrowth of Broadcom's acquisition of Sand Video, and the product now being released is actually the third iteration of the chip.

Pricing has not been released as yet, but Sprague notes the cost will depend on the device and on volume. In time it also will be integrated with other decoder codecs into single-chip designs as well, Sprague says.

Broadcom chose to field the decoder first because that is the most crucial element for consumer devices. H.264 encoder chipware needed to convert content into the MPEG-4 format is in development.

"We already have some real-time encoders in our labs, and clearly, the DVD people are in the process of developing the non-real-time encoders they would need for studios," Sprague says. "There are prototypes available now in the marketplace from all of the typical people you would expect to be in that marketplace. So I would say definitely in the year 2005 and maybe mid-2005 they are prepared for production."

Sprague adds another reason for releasing the decoder first is that it cannot be changed over time—any changes would make existing consumer equipment incompatible.

The H.264 decoder chip can be added to existing Broadcom system-on-a-chip solutions with older MPEG-2 decoder technology, opening the door for use in cable set-tops.

"This chip has standard interfaces on it, and those interfaces would allow you to bypass the MPEG-2 on the system on a chip and create a set-top box that would be compatible with both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4," Sprague says.

Broadcom expects to announce BCM 7411 product deals around this month's Consumer Electronics Show.