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What CPUs are Integrated into Home Theater Hardware?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 7/13/2010

Did you ever wonder how your home theater hardware works? This article takes a brief look at game consoles, DVD players and other home theater equipment and explains what type of processor each contains and why it needs a processor.

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    Home Theater Processors

    You may not realize it, but computer processors surround you. They are everywhere. In your phone, in your digital alarm click, and they may even be in your refrigerator and microwave.

    They’re also in your home theater. Your television, DVD player, and game consoles all have CPUs integrated in them. These CPUs integrated into home entertainment systems have different capabilities. Let’s take a look at the hardware in common home theater hardware.

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    DVD / Blu Ray Players

    Types of CPUs Integrated Into Home Entertainment Systems Both DVD and Blu Ray players have processors integrated into them. A processor is required primarily for two tasks.

    The first is to manage the basic operating system of the player. This is what makes it possible to reward and fast forward, to display subtitles, and etc. The second task is decoding and displaying the video on the disc. Usually the information on a DVD or Blu Ray is protected by copy protection and compressed to reduce file size. Decoding and decompressing video requires the completion of complex mathematical algorithms.

    The processor inside your DVD or Blu Ray player is likely to be an ARM processor. ARM processors are smaller, less powerful and less power hungry than the x86 processor in your PC.

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    Game Consoles

    Most gamers know that game consoles have a processor in them. It is obvious that the graphics a modern console can display would not be possible without powerful hardware.

    Each of the consoles on the market today uses a different processor. The Xbox 360 uses a triple-core Xenon processor from IBM. The Playstation 3 uses the Cell processor, which combines a single 3.2 Ghz PowerPC-based core (again from IBM) and seven sub-cores called Synergistic Processing Elements. The Wii, by far the least powerful of the trio, uses a 729Mhz PowerPC-based core.

    Only the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are capable of displaying HD video. The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are in fact the result of an interesting relationship – some the same engineers worked on both projects. If you’d like to know more, pick up the book The Race for a New Game Machine.

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    HDTVs

    Home theater computers have to have processors in them to handle a number of tasks. It was once the case that HDTVs were really only responsible for receiving and displaying signals accurately. However, the prevalence of inexpensive and relatively quick processors has made it possible for the addition of many features. You can now purchase HDTVs with built-in Internet capability and ties to digital video services like Hulu and Netflix.

    Like DVD and Blu Ray players, HDTVs are likely to use ARM processors. If they do not use ARM processors they usually use a very low-power proprietary design from their manufacturer, but this is becoming less common by the day.

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    HTPCs

    Finally we come to home theater computers. These are literally PCs built for the home theater, and so their processor is the same as any desktop PC.

    With that said, HTPCs tend to use relatively low-power processors. Intel Core i3, Pentium and Celeron brand processors are not uncommon. Modern HTPCs with an AMD processor will usually use an Athlon or Athlon II processor.

    The processors in home theater computers are dramatically faster than those found in any other home theater device. However, the need to maintain an operating system – Windows, OS X or Linux – saps much of their performance advantage. Despite this, HTPCs are typically capable of displaying HD at 1080p without issue.