C-Cube

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C-Cube Microsystems, Inc.
Type Former public company CUBE on Nasdaq.
Acquired by LSI Logic in 2001.
Subsequently acquired by Magnum Semiconductor in 2007
Industry Semiconductors
Founded 1988
Headquarters Milpitas, California
Key people Edmund Sun, co-founder
Alex Balkanski, co-founder
Bill O'Meara, CEO
Don Valentine, Chairman
Products Video Compression

C-Cube Microsystems was an early company in video compression technology as well as the implementation of that technology into inexpensive semiconductor integrated circuits. C-Cube was the first company to deliver on the market opportunity presented by the conversion of image and video data from analog to digital formats enabling markets such as VideoCD, DVD, DirecTV, digital cable and non-linear editing systems.

History[edit]

C-Cube was founded on 8 August 1988 (the number eight being significant in Chinese culture representing money) by Edmund Sun from Weitek and Alexandre Balkanski. The company name originally stood for Creative Circuits Corporation but over time the three C's in C-Cube referred to the markets being served by video compression technology, specifically Computer, Consumer and Communications. Early funding came from VC firms Hambrecht & Quist and JAFCO America Ventures as well as Japanese farm equipment manufacturer Kubota Ltd.

Image and video technology was just beginning to make the transition from analog (VHS, Betamax, etc.) to new digital-base formats. The key issue was the amount of bandwidth required to transmit or store the digital content. Digital video compression was a key enabling technology that made digital video practical. C-Cube engineers drove the early standards for digital compression - including Eric Hamilton, chair of the JPEG committee and Didier LeGall, chair of the MPEG video committee. As a result of their familiarity of the standardization process and the standards themselves, C-Cube was able to gain advantageous knowledge in the implementation of the algorithms into high-performance silicon.

Early on, the company was recognized for technical leadership but was largely unable to turn leadership into revenues and profits. The company found focus with the hiring of Bill O'Meara as CEO in 1991. He hired a new professional management staff and procured $10 million in added investment from Sequoia Capital, Texas Instruments and AMD in late 1992 and enabled the company to drive toward profitability based on the development of products including the CL550 JPEG codec, the CL950 MPEG II (prototype) decoder and the CL450 MPEG I decoder.

These early-to-market devices proved the concept of digital video compression to a number of large OEM customers and led to the development of next-generation industry-enabling products including the CL4000 MPEG II encoder family that enabled the DirecTV program from Hughes and the CL480 MPEG I decoder that drove the VideoCD market in Japan and China in the mid 1990s.

C-Cube went public on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol CUBE in 1994. Its board of directors included chairman Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital, T. J. Rodgers of Cypress Semiconductor and Gregorio Reyes of Sandisk. O'Meara retired in 1995, turning over the office to founder Alex Balkanski. Balkanski was responsible for incubating video compression equipment company DiviCom starting in 1993 and C-Cube eventually acquired them in 1996. After this acquisition, the company changed its focus from strictly semiconductors to being both a chip and system supplier. Other acquisitions bolstered PC driver software and reference design expertise including the purchase of the software driver unit of Ring Zero in 1995 as well as MCT in 1996. Umesh Padval was brought in to run C-Cube Semiconductor in 1998.

During the late 1990s, C-Cube was unable to repeat its runaway hits seen earlier in the decade. The company sold its DiviCom division to Harmonic Lightwaves in May, 2000 for nearly $1.7 billion. C-Cube Semiconductor (Nasdaq CUBED) was eventually sold to competitor LSI Logic in March 2001 in a stock transaction worth $878 million.[1] Balkanski is now a general partner at Benchmark Capital. LSI sold off the consumer products business (including what was C-Cube) to Magnum Semiconductor in 2007[2]

Products[edit]

Product Year Features
CL550 JPEG codec 1990
  • World's first 'real-time' JPEG Codec
  • Used in digital cameras, color printers and scanners and video editing systems
  • Sold as both a chip and a $4000 PC/AT-based board
CL950 MPEG-1 decoder 1991
  • World's first single-chip MPEG-1 decoder
  • Capable of decoding full-screen (720×480) real time (30 frame/s) images
  • First C-Cube chip driven by programmable microcode
  • Used primarily as a demonstration vehicle, never entered full production
CL450 MPEG-1 decoder 1991
  • World's first production MPEG-1 decoder
  • Developed in conjunction with Philips for their CD-i platform
  • CL450i microcode variant
  • Used for early VideoCD development in Japan
CL4000 MPEG-1 encoder 1993
  • World's first real-time MPEG-1 encoder chipset
  • Contained 1.2M transistors per chip
  • Up to 8 chips were used for 'full screen' (720×480) resolution
  • Enabled the launch of the DirecTV program by RCA/Thomson
  • Enabled the development of mass content for VideoCDs and digital karaoke in the Far East
CL9100 MPEG-2 decoder 1994
  • Real-time MPEG-2 decoder chip
  • Decoded MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (simple and main profile), and General Instrument's proprietary Digicypher II
  • Enabled high-volume cable and satellite decoder boxes worldwide
CLM4400 (VideoRISC) MPEG-2 encoder 1994
  • World's first real-time MPEG-2 encoder chipset
  • Enabled deployments of cable, satellite and content authoring for the upcoming DVD market
  • Also used for video conferencing with PictureTel.
CL480 MPEG-1 decoder 1994
  • High-volume, low cost MPEG-1 decoder for the VideoCD market
  • Co-developed with JVC and Philips.
  • Enabled a huge upsurge for the VideoCD platform in Japan, Korea and China
  • Microcode variant, the CL480PC enabled large-scale deployment of digital video on the PC
DVx single chip MPEG-2 codec 1997
  • First single chip MPEG-2 codec
  • Followed up by DVxpress in 1998 for digital video production

References[edit]