Caroline Swift continues her reports from Silicon Fen.
Silicon, element 14 in the periodic table, is the building block of IT. Not surprising, then, that Element 14 is the new name chosen for the company that was Acorn.
Its 100 or so engineers, still under the Acorn Group umbrella, will focus on the next generation silicon and software intellectual property (IP) for multimedia devices, initially in the digital TV market - including its Active range of interactive set-top boxes.
Three years ago, Oracle chose Acorn to make reference designs for its set-top box. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. The company has also turned from an early focus on Video on Demand systems for which a business case did not exist, says sales director Andy Mee.
Element 14 is now working with Canadian digital TV specialist ImagicTV, an affiliate of both NBTel and Newbridge Networks, to provide 10,000 Active Digital Video Receiving Devices in the first commercial roll-out of broadcast TV over standard phone wires.
ImagicTV technology allows service providers to deliver digital broadcast television to residential subscribers over Internet Protocol networks, Mee said. 'Their business software sits on our RISC software.
We can integrate all the required multimedia services into their software and provide a user interface to the (telephone company's) end customers.'
It sounds like a cash cow. But can Element 14 stay ahead of competitors?
Element 14 claims to be the only company selling a system that can be used down an ordinary phone line. 'We have specifically chosen telcos as it is the area set to explode,' says Mee. 'Satellite and terrestrial is pretty much a done deal from the technological perspective.'
At the time of going to press a European telco had signed up and two more had pens poised. Element 14's second focus will be on media processors, which Mee says are the 'cutting edge of future technology.'
In January Element 14 took on a team of people who were previously at ST Micro Electronics in Bristol. 'This is a crack silicon implementation team working alongside our site to create a new, licensable IP (Intellectual Property) for the media processors of the future. That way, we will continue to build set-top boxes - which will be the shop window for silicon IP - and look to integrate set-top boxes into home control units.'
The interactive set top box is intelligent and will extend its reach into home-based wireless communications as network infrastructure increases.
'As the pipes get fatter, we can send more multimedia and internet entertainment and better quality pictures down the line,' says Mee.
'In the next 10 years it will be possible that when the front door bell of your house rings, from your mobile phone you will be able to view the person standing there, from wherever you are, and then communicate with them direct. This will be possible because every appliance with a chip in it will be linked up through a home controller unit - and at the heart of that will be our set-top box.' www.e-14.com.
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