Sigma launches palm sized set top, adds Clearpath for HomePlug

Sigma Designs this week introduced the idea of taking the set top away from being on top of the TV, and produced a reference design and a new chip that will allow you instead to plug it straight into the wall, neatly out of sight.

The reference design relies on the new SMP8670 media processor, and comes with built in Z-Wave control technology for RF based remote controls and the new Clearpath capability that Sigma describes as MIMO, which uses all three cables in a home power grid, to bring up the capability of powerline by two or three times the throughput.

Michael Weissman, vice president of corporate marketing for Sigma Designs talked us through the new reference design which the company described as an Ultra-Thin Reference Platform.

‘The device is just over 3 inches by 4 inches and an inch and a quarter thick, it’s about the same dimensions as Apple’s Airport Extreme,’ said Weissman
‘The transformer is inside the device so there is no separate box hanging off, and it has the powerline chips built in.’

‘It hangs off wall with an HDMI connector the only thing coming out of it and inside it has the first variant of Homeplug AV with our new Clearpath technology.’

Weissman is hard to pin down on performance for this technology and insists of over-explaining it and having us repeat it back to him, ‘I’ve been misquoted too often and people end up comparing Apples and Oranges,’ he said.

‘We have done field tests of Homeplug AV and although it has a PHY rate of 200 Mbps, only 61% of power outlets yield 20 Mbps or above. When you add Clearpath to HomePlug AV the result is closer to 91% of the outlets achieving 20 Mbps or above. If we replaced that with the Clearpath Extreme, the version which is included in, the result is closer to 99.5% of the outlets performing at two to three times the rate of Homeplug AV, around 65 Mbps, with 75% of them performing over 200 Mbps.’

This is a very similar discussion to one we had recently with Qualcomm Atheros (how long before they drop that Atheros bit) where it positioned its Atheros 7400. This is being characterized by some as non-standard, although Atheros defends it and says that it fits within the HomePlug spec, but what is similar is the way Atheros says it is targeting 25 Mbps (as opposed to 20 Mbps or 65 Mbps) at every outlet. Clearly this has become an industry comparison point and Atheros needs the extra bandwidth in its 7400 product to get its performance above the tested level that Weissman talks about for Homeplug AV. Atheros has also just come out with its own Clearpath style improvements to Homeplug.

Weissman naturally used the discussion to push his company’s credentials. ‘We are selling 10 million HPNA devices a year and we are planning a smooth migration from HPNA to We are in discussions with a bunch of tier 1 service providers in Europe, the US and Asia and China Telecom is so interested in it is holding its own plugfests. All it has to do is perform to spec and these operators will upgrade to it.’

When we ask about performance, once again he is guarded, ‘Every different type of wire can have its own network. And real world limitations on co-ax takes down to around 70% to 80% of its 1 Gbps capability, so 700 Mbps to 800 Mbps. over phone lines offers a practical payload of about 450 Mbps.’

And when we suggest that WiFi will take the Lions share of video distribution in the home he says, ‘To Tablets yes, but if you want a multiroom DVR, that requires 80 Mbps constant – why would you choose to do that in WiFi?’

Weissman insists that he Bill of Materials for his new Ultra-thin set top reference design are just above $30 for the entire set top.

The SMP8670 has a 700 MHz MIPS based CPU at its heart, and additional processing in a 350 MHz image processing unit, and another similarly powered security CPU. It has onboard risc based video decoders which work with all the main codecs and comes with up to 512 MB of DRAM. It is rated at 1543 DMIPs

For comparison the biggest Broadcom set top chip, just launched, has a 1.3 Gigahertz MIPs core, H.264 hardware accelerators for HD and 3D and advanced 3D graphics acceleration, plus MoCA and DLNA support. Sure it is more powerful, but given the size of this beast, it’s not SO much more powerful, and that chip is aimed at top end set tops that offer pay TV and OTT hybrids. So certainly the Sigma device is state of the art. Sigma says that it’s 40% faster and consumes 30% less power than previous Sigma thin-client systems.