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:
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.
Specialist Media Players
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.
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.
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.
In 2010 several new manufacturers released media chipsets. Attempting to compete on cost were Amlogic and Boxchip with their 8626H and F10 chipsets respectively.
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.
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.
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||?|
|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||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)|