Toshiba Puts Cell Chip In TVs

Posted by: Kenji Hall on October 5, 2009

What does the future of TV look like? If you believe Toshiba, it will be a 55-inch, flat-screen, liquid-crystal-display TV. It will come with a 3-terabyte hard disk drive. And it will run on the ultrafast Cell multimedia chip, which was co-developed by Toshiba, Sony and IBM. The chip also powers Sony’s PlayStation 3 video game console and IBM’s high-end computer servers.

This is Toshiba’s first product with the Cell chip as the brains. The Cell Regza TV’s high-tech gadgetry will come in a box the size of an older-generation DVD player. It will allow the TV to show up to eight channels at the same time and record up to 26 hours of video. The set also has an Internet browser, and its speakers, which run along the bottom of the screen, are comparable to those of a high-end stereo systems. The company’s engineers spent a month working with Tokyo-based sound-equipment maker Foster Electric to custom-build the speaker system, according to one engineer.

Still, will anyone pay $11,200 (1 million yen) for a TV?

Toshiba will find out soon enough. The TV, which was unveiled the day before the start of this week’s CEATEC tech, is expected to go on sale in Japan from December. It’s priced between 30% and 40% higher other brands’ models of similar size. Toshiba hopes to sell about 1,000 a month, and is planning a version for the U.S. next year and Europe later.

Toshiba is one of Japan’s biggest TV makers but it has less name recognition in other markets than Sony, Sharp and Panasonic. So Toshiba is wagering that a state-of-the-art TV can add a little stardust to its brand.

Toshiba’s engineers began thinking about developing the Cell TV even before work on the chip was finished, in 2004. They spent about five years on the project, initially debating how to use the chip and what features to put in the TV, and building prototypes. The TV took shape in the final two years of work.

Five years is an eternity when you consider that Toshiba normally adds new tech and refreshes its entire lineup of TVs every six months. What took so long? Software, for one, says Shigenori Tokumitsu, who led the Cell Regza TV team. The Cell chip in Toshiba’s TV is the same as the one in Sony’s PS3. “But a TV and gaming machine use the chip in different ways,” he said. The Cell does the number-crunching needed to give the TV its sharp picture. “But the heart of the set’s image processing technology is its software,” and that was done in-house, Tokumitsu said. Other challenges: designing a cooling system to keep the Cell chip from overheating and keeping hardware noise from interfering with the TV’s stellar picture. Tokumitsu wouldn’t specify how large his team was or how it solved those problems. He refused to talk about Toshiba’s investment, too.

The TV’s picture is in high definition. It can also improve the resolution of poor-quality videos from YouTube. But it can’t handle 3D and higher resolutions yet; those are expected to come in future versions. With the Regza Cell TV’s combination of blazing-fast number crunching power, Internet connection and massive data-storage capacity, Toshiba can easily offer software upgrades that add to the TV’s features.

Toshiba's focus was clearly on the TV as a shining example of what an elite group of hardware and software engineers can build together. But it will need to think more deeply about the possibilities of software. Namely: create a business model that takes advantage of the Cell TV’s network capabilities. The TV could easily be the gateway for a slew of paid-for services, which other TV makers are already experimenting with. (Remember Yahoo! Widgets?) Tokumitsu said the TV hadn’t been designed with that in mind—though it’s possible to pursue later.

His team must also lower the cost of making the TVs. Ultimately, Toshiba wants to produce less pricey Cell TV models for the mainstream. It’s even considering selling the “Cell platform”, consisting of three circuit boards, to other TV makers, which would bring cost-reductions but would also give Toshiba's rivals the same high-end hardware. Maybe that's not so bad: It would mean that Toshiba's rivals see the merits of having the Cell power TVs.

Reader Comments

kuei

October 5, 2009 5:51 PM

Why pay $11.2k for an lcd tv when you can get a fantastic 63" laservue tv for $6.5k? I run my sound through my entertainment system (as most media lovers do) and my tv is actually being used as my pc monitor. I have 2TB of movies on my pc hard drives. I just click and play. Once again, Toshiba is heading in the wrong direction.

123xyz

October 5, 2009 6:12 PM

For $11,200 this thing better boot up faster than the regular HD TV's on the market. And, can I watch TV and surf simultaneously? Take out the garbage? $11,200

Price will come down

October 5, 2009 8:44 PM

When plasma and LCD TV came out they were this expensive too, but now that everybody is mass producing them they are cheaper. The price of such TVs will come down too.

I think technology wise this TV is going in the right direction by integrating internet into the TV and it also recognizes the fact that people like to watch videos from internet.

Anil Bhattacharji

October 5, 2009 9:30 PM

Why not just open the window and look out. :)

Joe Ragle

October 6, 2009 9:35 AM

Is there Rambus technology in these tvs? If so then to what extent? Thanks Joe

kenji

October 6, 2009 10:01 AM

Thank you all for your comments, feedback. Joe, for more details, please see Toshiba's press release here:
http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2009_10/pr0501.htm

mr dave

October 6, 2009 10:28 AM

I love my Toshiba 37 inch. I paid only $550.00 for it! Why pay $11,000? All next generation TV will be hooked up to the web so Toshiba better get this price down or be crushed by LG. One other thing Toshiba has the worst remotes and all HD tv's need to work on screen refreshing so you can surf faster.

123321

October 6, 2009 12:40 PM

How does this compare to Samsung's LED TV's? And I guess Canon's SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) TV is not quite dead either. A TV is about display first, features second. The two aforementioned technologies, I believe, are superior display techs than LCD. If Toshiba really wanted to be cutting edge, I'm curious as to why they did not use one of them. Obviously, at $11M, cost is not a factor.

Squeezebox

October 6, 2009 4:47 PM

When I saw the headline, I thought they were putting a cell phone chip in a television set. That would have been nice, to have a built in speakerphone so that if you get a call at home while watching TV, you can just say "hello" and answer it without leaving the couch.

vivin

October 7, 2009 4:33 AM

it's too expensive .

dude

October 9, 2009 7:40 PM

I have a Samsung 67 inch LED DLP that's 3D ready with a mighty fine response time measured in microseconds for $2100. I'll stick with my 67 inch thank you very much. New tech is always outrageous in price. I remember not that long ago the cheapest plasma was a Samsung 42 inch for $10,000 and it wasn't even a very good picture. That's how it works though. New tech stuff is cool though even if it's out of my reach...for now.

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