Who's Inside the New Google TVs?

There's been a notable absence of detail about the hardware destined to power Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) second TV push, until now.

After the first failed foray with Logitech, there was talk that Big G would hook up with LG Electronics, which has now been confirmed. Samsung, Sony, Vizio, and LG are the motley gang of manufacturers onboard with Google TV, part deux. Although for this Fool, the more interesting story is what lurks inside.

With Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) dropping out of the smart TV race and effectively giving ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) the win in the space, there are handfuls of potential ARM licensees to pick from. With so many choices to pick from, who will power the next generation of Google TVs? Will it be NVIDIA? Maybe Texas Instruments or Qualcomm? Nope. The winner is ... Marvell Technology (Nasdaq: MRVL  ) !

The first generation of Google TV set-top boxes ran on Intel x86 processors, so moving to ARM is a major fundamental shift. The half-good news is that the first iteration sold so poorly that it has a relatively small installed base, which makes it slightly smoother to make such a dramatic shift like changing chip architectures.

The Marvell Armada 1500 processor is what will be serving up all the HD content to the new generation of Google TVs. It's no slacker, either. The chip is a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor capable of delivering two simultaneous 1080p video streams. It's a solid design win for Marvell, although the extent of which will certainly depend on how well the platform does on its second take.

The transition is important because Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is also supposedly set to include ARM chips in its upcoming Apple TV set. Apple has only used Intel chips in Macs, while all of its mobile devices and the current Apple TV set-top box have used custom ARM chips, so Apple's decision isn't much of a change like Big G's.

By using ARM chips, Android apps written for ARM architecture could potentially be ported to Google TV 2.0 with minimal effort, a benefit Apple will probably tap with its TV and iOS apps. The curve ball is that Intel and Google have taken their relationship to the next level by "optimizing" Android for Intel Atom chips, as the chip giant prepares to finally go mobile.

After letting the chips fall where they may, both Apple's and Google's new TV platforms will be ARM-based. iOS will continue to be ARM-based, and Android will further fragment and support both ARM and Intel x86 chips. With all current Android devices and apps built for ARM, even though we'll probably see some Intel Android devices at CES this month, which side do you think developers will pick? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu has sold bullish put spreads on Qualcomm and NVIDIA. He owns shares of ARM Holdings and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Marvell Technology Group, Google, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Logitech International, Apple, and Intel and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, Logitech International, Intel, and NVIDIA, creating bull call spread positions in Intel and Apple, and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2012, at 4:06 AM, KeitaiOtaku wrote:

    Dear Confused Investor- from your article, it seems clear that you are not aware of what ARM or x86 means from a "developer" perspective: nothing. You seem to imply a choice is to be made, or that using x86 will fragment android. This couldn't be further from the truth.

    Remember that Nasty Oracle lawsuit? That is happening because android uses a virtual engine for its applications, translating byte code into executable instructions. In other words, unlike other platforms, android developers do not even consider what underlying architecture they are running on. In otherwords, there are no sides to pick.

    Please take the time to consider this. It is important to not mislead the people that might read your articles.

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