Philips Electronics is to spin off its TriMedia media processor technology as a separate company, with Sony showing an early interest. Before IBM and Motorola developed the PowerPC G3, TriMedia as a 'QuickTime media processor' was Apple's big plan for boosting its Power Mac range.

As an independent company, TriMedia Technologies has a brief to create an industry standard for advanced consumer products including digital TV sets, time-shift recorders, and set-top boxes. Sony will be the first investor in the new company, and the first licensees of TriMedia VLIW processor technology.

TriMedia Technologies will be based in Silicon Valley, creating and licensing embedded processor core designs and software to help companies quickly develop advanced digital consumer products.

Other consumer electronics companies are also expected to invest in the new company in the "near future", according to Philips.

QuickTime's TriMedia engine Apple had been expected to announce a deal - known internally as the 'QuickTime media processor strategy' - with Philips in January 1997. TriMedia would have boosted the media-authoring capabilities in Apple's mid-level and high-end Power Macs. This followed company announcements at the 1996 Fall Comdex show in Las Vegas.

Apple would have bundled TriMedia chips on to PCI cards, installing them in select Power Macs and also selling them separately. One implementation of TriMedia was a card code-named FireDrill that enabled users to edit MPEG-2 and AC/3 audio for DVD playback. FireDrill would have housed two 100MHz TriMedia processors, 8MB of synchronous DRAM and a FireWire port.

"This is a way of beefing up the base capabilities of our systems," said Dan Monahan, Apple's worldwide product marketing manager for Power Macs, at the time.

Apple’s plan would have let users work with full-screen, real-time Motion-JPEG encoding at 30 frames per second with 24-bit colour. In addition, the TriMedia chip included APIs so it could have been programmed to accelerate a range of other codecs, including MPEG-1 and MPEG-2.

“It ties in with QuickTime well,” Monahan said.

“The programmable nature of TriMedia lets us create a system that allows you to author and also target all the different types of playback with acceleration.”

MMX rival The TriMedia deal was part of Apple’s answer to Intel's MMX Pentium family.

“As powerful as chips like the PowerPC and Pentium Pros are, there is still a limited amount they can do even with onboard acceleration,” said Gary Little, senior vice president, general manager of the Power Macintosh division at Apple.

Digital TV techs Building on the TriMedia VLIW (very-long instruction word) processor technologies pioneered by Philips and now transferred to the new company, TriMedia Technologies will create and license new processor cores and software for advanced digital consumer products. Examples of these products include digital televisions, advanced set-top boxes, personal video recorders, video editors, home networking devices, security and surveillance systems, and videophones.

By processing up to five instructions with each clock cycle, a low-cost processor based on TriMedia technology can achieve "the exceptional performance necessary for demanding digital media and networking applications", according to Philips. The company will also provide systems engineering and training services for its customers and third-party developers. TriMedia Technologies will license a foundation of programmable technologies on which consumer electronics companies can build distinct and innovative digital products.

Philips Electronics is using TriMedia technology for digital television and set-top box products, as well as in its Nexperia Silicon Systems Platforms and TriMedia processor semiconductor products. Sony currently uses TriMedia technology for rear-projection televisions. Both companies intend to focus their initial applications of TriMedia technology on digital-television receivers.

TriMedia tryst “TriMedia Technologies has a tremendous opportunity to create an industry standard platform used in advanced digital consumer appliances,” said Cor Boonstra, president of Royal Philips Electronics.

“Sony is pleased to work with Philips to launch this new company, which has the potential to bring exciting new technologies to the consumer industry,” said Nobuyuki Idei, president and CEO, Sony. “The TriMedia processor has tremendous potential, and the new company could help to unleash its full potential at a much faster rate. We welcome this opportunity to partner with Philips, and invite other consumer electronics companies to consider the benefits.”