PortalPlayer was founded in June 1999 by former National executives with the goal of becoming “the leading supplier of digital media infrastructure solutions for the consumer marketplace.” The company has raised $16 million in two rounds of financing that included investments from Chase Capital, Techfund, FlatIron Partners, MP3.com, and individual investors. The company has 125 employees at offices in California, Washington, and India.
PortalPlayer’s first product is the Tango digital media platform, a SDMI-compliant media player/recorder system, claimed to be the first of its kind with both playback and record functions. The platform, which is targeted at portable MP3-type player/recorder systems, hybrid systems combining CD and digital audio player/recorders, and hard-drive equipped digital audio jukeboxes, would enable users to directly record CD content into an MP3 format without a PC. PortalPlayer has also announced support for Advanced Audio Codec (AAC), Microsoft Windows Media Audio, M3U, and Qdesign decoder technology, with others to be added in Q3 2000.
The platform includes the Tango chip, all firmware needed to create the end product, and an intuitive PC application that seamlessly links internet and locally stored files. Available firmware includes an extensive suite of decoders, encoders, digital rights management (DRM) technologies, encryption standards, audio effects, and both solid-state and disk-based storage. Tango directly supports Compact Flash, Sony Memory Stick, SmartMedia, MultiMediaCard, and SD (Secure Digital) Memory solid-state storage. Tango-based systems can support two banks of Flash memory, with up to 128 MB per bank, and two banks of SDRAM, with up to 128 MB per bank. Based on an ARM7 microprocessor, the Tango PP5001 SuperIntegration SOC controller chip runs at 140 MIPS. Encoding takes between 80 and 120 MIPS. Oki is manufacturing Tango on a 0.25u process.
PortalPlayer has taken into account the legal problems encountered by other services that facilitate the downloading of music from the internet. “The technology supports both open and secure files,” stated VP of Marketing Michael Maia. He went on to explain that the Tango platform is compliant with SDMI Portable Drive Specification 1.0, Phase 1, which includes Verance’s SDMI Phase 1 Watermarking System. PortalPlayer also supports DRM systems such as the InterTrust MetaTrust Utility, DOWNLOADSdirect by Mjuice, and Microsoft Windows Media Rights Manager. Other security mechanisms can be added via Flash update.
Cirrus, Micronas, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments already have products on the market, but PortalPlayer’s Tango is the only product that has the ability to record as well as play digital files. Maia also noted that PortalPlayer has developed partnerships with companies such as MP3.com, which will make it easier for users to access MP3.com’s services and website. In addition, the Tango platform is able to interface with many different formats, while one of its main competitors, Cirrus’ Maverick, interfaces only to Flash memory. The only customer that PortalPlayer has announced is Sensory Science (formerly Go-Video), a consumer electronics company that specializes in developing and marketing innovative digital audio and video products.
Tango is priced at $40 per set in 1Ku quantities. The platform is sampling to qualified OEMs with volume production scheduled for Q3. The first commercial devices using the platform are expected to hit the market late this year and Q1 2001.
John Mallard, President, CEO & co-founder (previously the CTO at National; also worked at Digital as Hardware Engineering Manager for the Mobile Products Group)
Don Pacholec, CFO, COO, & co-founder (most recently Director of Business Development at National)
Sanjeev Kumar, VP of Software Engineering & co-founder (most recently Director of Software Engineering at National; also worked with Digital as a Software Engineering Manager in the Mobile PC Group)
Michael Maia, VP of Marketing (most recently Senior Director of Marketing for the Information Appliances Group at National)
George Fang, VP of Worldwide Sales (most recently Director of Sales at Tripath)
Jeff Hawkey, VP of Engineering (formerly acting VLSI director of Philips; previously held management positions at National, Cirrus and NCR)