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A Brief History of Chipsets

We began this site in 2008 as a way to group and index media player products according to 'chipset'.

Modern media and computing products (media boxes / phones / tablets / HTPCs) are built around a single chip, containing the CPU, graphics processor (GPU), audio hardware and all other functions. This type of integrated design is called SoC (System on a Chip), or simply 'chipset'.

All products with the same chipset will have the same core performance and features. There will be some differences in terms of software (firmware) but these will be relatively minimal.

When we started in 2008 we concentrated on the specialist media player chipsets that were prevalent at the time. At around 2012 the market for media players switched to the Android operating system and the chipsets became ARM based. These same ARM chipsets are used in phones and tablets. At the start of 2015 a new breed of HTPC based on SoCs from Intel were launched running Windows, creating a viable alternative to Android.

This site lists all three types of chipset together in one index and has pages explaining chipsets for each category:

ARM Android Chipsets (2011-) : Mini-HTPC Chipsets (2014-) : Specialist Media Chipsets (2006-2012).

Specialist Media Chipset History

The classic 'Media Player' originated in the mid 2000s as high quality video content started to become available via the internet. A market emerged for simple set top boxes that enabled the playback of this video on a home TV.

Up to late 2007 you needed a very powerful computer with an expensive graphics card to decode HD video. The Sigma 863x was the first integrated and relatively low cost solution to allow HD video playback on a TV. As with all Media Player chipsets before and after, the Sigma 863x was a SoC (system on a chip) design whereby all hardware functions are contained within the chipset (video, sound, LAN, interface. etc). This enabled boxes powered by it to be small and relatively inexpensive. Very quickly these new 'Media Player' boxes became popular.

In the following years there were a succesion of specialist Media Player SoC chipsets, generally getting more powerful and adding features.

2007/8

Sigma Designs
Specialist Media Players
The early years were dominated by Sigma Designs and the 8634 / 8635 chipset. The 863x ran at 300Mhz, and whilst it played back most video content including the emerging container of choice MKV, it was very slow at doing anything other than video. User interfaces on Sigma 863x players were slow and the players took a long time to boot. The Sigma 863x was usually limited to 5.1 HD-audio only.

Key players from this era were the original WDTV and the grandaddy of all Media Players, the Popcorn A-100 NMT from Syabas. These players were very popular despite being priced at $200+, something that seems ridiculous today! Also at this time the Chinese manufacturers jumped onto the scene, with players like the HDX-1000 and Egreat M34-A becoming popular cheaper clones of the Popcorn A-100 NMT.

2009

Realtek
Specialist Media Players

The burgeoning popularity of Media Players in 2009 led to the entry of Realtek into the market. The Realtek 1xx3 chipset series was much touted and managed to offer both superior performance than the Sigma 863x and a vastly lower price. Despite early versions failing to deliver on promises (no 7.1 audio until the DD revision) a new breed of players managed to overtake the Sigma players in popularity, largely due to the low prices.

For Reatek chipsets the last number in the chipset name indicates the chipset generation. So all chips ending in '3' are 1xx3 (2009) generation and all ending in '5' are 1xx5 (2011) generation. The fact that 1073 is a higher number than 1055 does not matter, it is the final number that indicates the age and core design of the chip.

There were three major versions of Raltek 1xx3 and several minor variations. The three major 1xx3 chipset versions were the 1073, 1183, and 1283. These were all the same chip in terms of format support and performance, the only difference being the added ability to record AV sources in the 1283. HD Audio support in the 1xx3 improved through the chipset's life with several revisions. The DD and CC versions of the chipset both added full 7.1 HD-audio support to the chipset.

Realtek 1073 players were all based on a common SDK (firmware+OS) provided by Realtek. This meant that they were all essentially similar in performance and interface. It also meant that producing these players was very easy for manufacturers, all they had to do was create the hardware and Realtek provided the software.

Key players from the Realtek 1073 era were the original Xtreamer, the Asus O!PlayHD, and the ACRyan PlayOn. The Chinese manufacturers got into the Realtek 1073 in an even greater way than with the Sigma 863x because Realtek provided the SDK, meaning they had no software to develop. There were literally hundreds of Realtek 1073 players released (we list 158).

In response to the challenge from Realtek and in recognition of the aging nature of the 863x, Sigma released two new chipsets in late 2009, the 864x series and 865x series. The Sigma 864x and the 865x are related and similar chips, with the 864x being the more powerful. The 865x is clocked at 500Mhz and the 864x at 667Mhz. These two Sigma chipsets would last well into 2012 with many variations.

The Sigma 8643 and 8642 are identical except that the 8642 is a Macrovision version allowing for the ability to play copy protected DVD / Blu-Ray. The 864x chipset is significantly more powerful than the 865x series, despite the product number being lower. The 864x chipset offered full 7.1 HD-audio downmix and passthrough.

The 864x tended to be used by the established and most popular manufacturers. Key players included the Popcorn Hour C-200 and HDI Dune Base 3.

There were initially 8655 (64bit RAM - 6 video DACS), 8653 (32bit RAM - 4 video DACS), 8654 (Macrovision enabled version of 8655), and 8652 (Macrovision version of 8653) versions of the 865x. All 865x chipsets perform the same in terms of video format support and performance. In theory the 865x offers full 7.1 HD-audio support but in reality licencing problems means that DTS-HD MA passthrough is missing in many players (e.g. WDTV Live 2011). In 2011 there was also released a version with Android 2.2 support (similar to the Realtek 1186), this version did not gain much support from manufacturers and only appeared in a couple of players.

2010

In 2010 several new manufacturers released media chipsets. Attempting to compete on cost were Amlogic and Boxchip with their 8626H and F10 chipsets respectively.

Other Manufacturer
Specialist Media Players

The AmLogic 8626H (Apollo) chipset was launched in early 2010 as a budget alternative to the Realtek 1073. It runs at 400mhz and appears to be at least equal in decoding performance to the Realtek chips whilst being even cheaper. The 8626H's main drawbacks are that it does not support lossless HD-Audio or WMV / VC-1.

The Boxchip F10 is SoChip SC9800 based, and offers full 7.1 downmix. Clock speed is as yet unknown but decoding performance has been shown to be comparable with 1073 based players.

Players using Intel chipsets started to appear in late 2010. Both Google TV and BoxeeBox use the Intel CE4100. This chip runs at 1.2Ghz and reports state it is capable of 90Mbit/s h.264 video, making it roughly on a par (for h.264) with the 667Mhz Sigma 864x series. As of 2012 is seems Intel have abandoned their CE line and their attempts to create a media chipset.

2011

The 865x range was suceeded by the 8670, offering a 700Mhz clock, and 30% lower heat.

Sigma released the 8647, an updated version of the 8642 running at 800Mhz.

In early 2011 the Realtek RTD 1055, and 1185 (1xx5) chips were launched. These are the successors to the 1073 series. All three chips run at 500Mhz so providing a small performance increase, otherwise the chips offer the same comprehensive format support as the previous generation. All chips run the same Realtek SDK4 Casablanca, offering a much better user experience (aesthetically, added media indexing, thumbnails..) from the stock SDK. As with the later version of the 1xx8 chipset full 7.1 HD-audio downmix and passthrough are supported in the 1xx5.

The next generation of Realtek chipset, the '6' series 1186 was released in early October 2011. This runs at 750Mhz, has HDMI 1.4, is capable of 3D including 3D ISO, and is able to dual boot into Android.

Key 1186 players include the Xtreamer Prodigy 3D and HiMedia 900B.

2012

The Sigma 8910 with VXP image processing was released as a high-end solution.

Also from Sigma, the 867x chipset appeared in a few products aimed at the lower end of the market.

The big development in 2012 was the shifting of the mass-market onto ARM Android chipsets. See the sections at the top of this page for info.

Media Player SoC Chipset Comparison Table
Click on column heading to sort.

Manufacturer Chipset Family Launch Date Model Clock MHZ LAN Audio Notes
Realtek '6' Series 2011-10 1186 750 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD HDMI 1.4 + 3D support. Dual boot Android.
Realtek '5' Series 2011-07 1005 500 NONE DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Cut down 1055. 8MB flash. SATA.
Sigma Designs 8910 2012-12 8910 1200 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD VXP, 1080p 3D, dual core
Amlogic 8726 2011-11 8726H ? 10/100/1000? ? Very little known!
Realtek '5' Series 1901-01 1085 500 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x, Flash web browser. Possibly dead AUG2011.
Sigma Designs 8670 2011-09 8670 700 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 30% less heat
Sigma Designs 865x 2011-11 8656 500 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 3D Hardware Acceleration. Possibly dead. OCT2011?
Sigma Designs 864x 2011-11 8647 800 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Possibly dead? OCT2011
Sigma Designs 864x 2011-11 8646 800 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Macrovision. Possibly dead? OCT2011
Marvell Cortex A9 2011-06 88DE3010 1200 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Blu-Ray Java menus, 3D
Realtek '5' Series 2011-03 1185 500 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x, DVB-T, Flash web browser
Realtek '5' Series 2010-11 1055 500 NONE DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x
Intel Intel CE 2010-10 CE4200 1200 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 3D, video encoder
Intel Intel CE 2010-10 CE4100 1200 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD
Boxchip SC9800 2010-09 F10 ? NONE DTS, DD, TrueHD DM
Realtek '3' Series 2010-09 1073DDC+ 400 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD ?
Amlogic 8626 2010-01 8626H 400 10/100 DTS, DD
Intel Intel CE 2010-01 CE3100 800 10/100/1000 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD
Sigma Designs 865x 2009-10 8655 500 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 64bit RAM, 6 * Video DAC
Sigma Designs 865x 2009-10 8654 500 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 64bit RAM, 6 * Video DAC, Macrovision
Sigma Designs 865x 2009-10 8653 500 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 32bit RAM, 4* Video DAC
Sigma Designs 865x 2009-10 8652 500 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD 32bit RAM, 4* Video DAC, Macrovision
Sigma Designs 864x 2009-09 8642 667 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD Macrovision
Sigma Designs 864x 2009-09 8643 667 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD
Realtek '3' Series 2009-06 1073DA 400 10/100 DD
Realtek '3' Series 2009-06 1283 400 10/100 DTS, DD AV record
Realtek '3' Series 2009-06 1073DD+ 400 10/100 DTS, DD
Realtek '3' Series 2009-06 1283DD+ 400 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD
Realtek '3' Series 2009-06 1183 400 10/100 DTS, DD, DTSMA Cut down 1283
Sigma Designs 863x 2008-01 8635 300 10/100 DD, DTS (partial)

Links

Sigma Chipset Selection Guide Q2 2012
Sigma Chipset Comparison 2011
Sigma SMP8910
Sigma SMP8670
Sigma SMP8652
Sigma SMP8646
Sigma SMP8642
Sigma SMP863x
Anadtech - Intel CE4100 Specs
Amlogic Products Page
ARM - 11 Series information

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