New chip to bring talkies to handhelds

Watch the news on your handheld or mobile

Instead of catching up on the news via radio or a newspaper on the way to work, commuters may soon be watching it on a handheld computer or mobile phone.

On Monday, Toshiba America Electronic Components announced its TC35273XB chip. The chip has 12MB of integrated memory and an encoder and decoder for MPEG-4, an audio-video compression standard. The integrated memory is what sets this chip apart from others, according to Toshiba. With integrated memory, the chip consumes less power, making it a good fit for portable gadgets.

"We know that battery life is always key with portable devices," said Andrew Burt, director of wireless market development at Toshiba. "So we designed this chip to specifically address that."

MPEG-4, short for Moving Picture Experts Group, tends to introduce fewer errors into a streaming audio-video file than other MPEG formats.

The chip will have a RISC processor at its core, running at a clock speed of 70MHz, according to the company.

Samples of the chip will be released to manufacturers in the second quarter, and mass production will follow in the third quarter. New handheld computers and cell phones using the chip and offering streaming media are expected shortly thereafter, Burt said.

Toshiba has been in talks with wireless carriers that are interested in offering streaming audio and video to subscribers, Burt said. For wireless carriers, more services equals subscribers using more airtime.

One imaginable scenario is a carrier offering a couple of daily video clips, such as news, weather or traffic reports, that would be automatically downloaded to a device. Subscribers wouldn't have to download the file themselves, and the information would be kept up-to-date.

Rob Enderle, vice president of desktop and mobile technology at Giga Information Group, said that such a scenario is not as compelling as what the future may hold with high-speed wireless access.

"Right now the low-hanging fruit is vertical markets," Enderle said, "but only because of bandwidth constraints. As the pipe widens, MPEG-4 and devices that can stream it will be far more compelling."

However, Enderle called MPEG-4 "a critical building block for the devices of the future", because it can compress audio-video files, which will bring true multimedia down to portable devices.

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