Set-top Box

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box Teardown

07 July 2008
The following is an overview of a teardown analysis conducted by IHS Benchmarking.

Overview / Main Features

Introduced in Jan 2008, the Explorer 8540HDC HD DVR is a relatively new addition to the 8500HDC series set-top box featuring DOCSIS set-top box Gateway (DSG) capability. The all-digital set-top box packs DOCSIS 2.0, 800MIPS application processor and dual 400MHz MPEG decoders. The Cisco STB can simultaneously display and record up to two channels at once with its dual digital tuners. A third digital tuner is employed for data networking and a 160GB internal SATA hard drive serve as the storage device for its DVR functionalities.

On top of that, the box features plenty of interfacing ports such as coaxial cable in/out, HDMI, Optical S/PDIF, component / S-video and RCA outputs, dual IEEE1394, USB, Ethernet and external SATA port for future storage expansion. The Set-Top Box supports up to 1920x1080 interlaced 60Hz resolution.

According to Cisco's press release, the 8500HDC series 'offers a range of capabilities such as sharing Internet services and content across multiple device platforms and the portability of personal photos and video content.' The Explorer 8540HDC represents a new breed of all-digital STB with integrated IP networking capabilities, essentially a cable set-top box with DOCSIS modem built-in to work within an open and vendor-agnostic service network.

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box Main ImageCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box Main Image

Target Market

Terrestrial / Digital Cable service providers


Announced Jan 7, 2008 per Cisco press release.

Pricing and Availability

Pricing for this kind of product (at the consumer level) is meaningless as it is a completely subsidized part of a service package. Cable set-top boxes are typically rented out to subscribers on a monthly schedule in accordance with the service contract which varies region to region within the North American market. Since the device cannot function without being properly set-up by a service provider, after-market product and prices have no validity.

Availability subject to cable provider service rollout schedule.

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Main PCB TopCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Main PCB Top

Volume Estimations

For the purposes of this teardown analysis, we have assumed that 1M units of this STB will be produced during the product lifetime. This volume estimate is in line with our previous estimations for similar types of cable STB.

As a reminder, teardown volume production assumptions are primarily used for our cost analysis in terms of amortized NRE and tooling costs, especially for custom components specific to the model being analyzed (mechanical components especially). Unless assumed, volumes increment by an order of magnitude. Minor changes in volume (say 1 million vs. 2) rarely have a large net effect on our final analysis.

Function / Performance

No performance testing was performed.

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box Cost AnalysisCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box Cost Analysis

Cost Notes
What Is Not Included in our Cost Analysis:

The total materials and manufacturing costs reported in this analysis reflect ONLY the direct materials cost (from component vendors and assorted EMS providers), AND manufacturing with basic test. Not included in this analysis are costs above and beyond the material manufacture of the core device itself, cost of intellectual property, royalties and licensing fees (those not already included into the per component price), software, software loading and test, shipping, logistics marketing and other channel costs including not only EMS provider and the OEM's margin, but that of other resellers. Our cost analysis is meant to focus on those costs incurred in the manufacture of the core device and exceptionally in some circumstances the packaging and literature as well.

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Main PCB BottomCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Main PCB Bottom

Manufacturing Notes

Country of Origin / Volume Assumptions

Based on markings, the unit was made in Mexico. Furthermore, we have assumed that custom mechanicals (plastics, metals, etc.) were sourced in China to take advantage of lower cost structures there.

Country of origin assumptions relate directly to the associated cost of manufacturing, where calculated by iSuppli. In the cases of 'finished' sub-assemblies (such as can tuners), we do not calculate internal manufacturing costs, but rather assess the market price of the finished product in which case country of origin assumptions may or may not have a direct effect on pricing.

Remember also that labor rates are applied directly only to hand inserted components and systems in our bill of materials, and although regional assumptions do, these new rates do not have a direct effect on our modeled calculations of placement costs for automated SMD assembly lines. Auto-inserted components (such as SMT components) placement costs are calculated by an iSuppli algorithm which allocates a cost per component based on the size and pincount of the device. This calculation is affected by country or region of origin as well.

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Enclosure DisassemblyCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Enclosure Disassembly

Design for Manufacturing / Device Complexity

We tend to use component counts as the one measurable and clearly defined 'metric' by which we can compare and judge the relative complexity of devices and comment as to where a given device fits in the spectrum of overall manufacturing cost and complexity between devices.

The Cisco Explorer 8540HDC DVR Set Top has an approximate total component count of 2222 (including all components of the CableCard) of which 90 are mechanical components. Due to the common form factor of DVR Set Tops, the components count relates closely to its feature set. The Explorer 8540HDC is no exception and the component count (both mechanical and electronic) is inline with other similar STBs we have already analyzed.

Component counts have a direct bearing on the overall manufacturing cycle times and costs, and also can increase or decrease overall yields and re-work. Our calculations of manufacturing costs factor counts and more qualitative complexities in the design. The cost of manufacturing is also, to some extent, decreased in this case because of assumed labor rate applied for China.

Note that manual labor has a much smaller effect on auto-insertion assembly lines (for the Main PCB, for example), where manufacturing costs are much more capital equipment intensive and driven by these investment costs.

Design Notes

The core chipset is a private label custom ASIC from ST Microelectronics which is believed to support video processing/decoding and modem functions. In the front end section it features a Mixed Signal Front End device from Analog Devices and 3 Microtune tuners for digital tuning. A modular (PCMCIA based) Multi-Stream CableCard is included within the STB for use to decrypt incoming signals. This is a familiar Scientific Atlanta PowerKey PKM802 CableCard previously analyzed by iSuppli. Beyond these core ICs, there are a few other ICs supporting mainly 'I/O' function such as Ethernet controller from Marvell as well as A/V Matrix and HDMI switch from ST Mircoelectronics.

Overall, the Explorer 8540HDC appears to be a typical STB design with front end, processing and I/O devices.

Main PCB

Audio/Video Processing

ST Microelectronics / Scientific Atlanta - Private Label - A/V Processor / MPEG Decoder

Front End

Analog Devices - AD9969JSTZ - Mixed-Signal Front End - Cable Modem/Set-Top Box, 3.3V

Microtune - MT2122F - Broadband Tuner, Single Chip, Multi-Standard, Receives 48MHz to 1.1GHz, w/ FDC Amplifier & Serial Control Interface (dual digital cable tuner)

Microtune - MT2022F - Tuner - Broadband, Single Chip MOCA, Multi-Standard, Receives 48MHz to 1.1GMHz, w/ FDC Amplifier & Serial Control Interface (DOCSIS 2.0)

I/O & Interface

ST Microelectronics - unknown part number - A/V Matrix & HDMI Switch

Marvell Technology - 88E8039-NNC1 - Ethernet Controller - Gigabit, PCI Express


Samsung Semiconductor - K4D261638K-LC50 - GDDR SDRAM, 128Mb

Hynix - HY5DU121622CTP-D43 - SDRAM, DDR, 512Mb (32Mx16), 250MHz, 2.5V

Other Sub-Assemblies

Hard Drive

Western Digital - WD1600AABS - Ultra ATA/100, 7200RPM, 2MB Buffer


Scientific Atlanta PowerKey PKM802 Multi-Stream CableCARD - Containing:

ST Microelectronic - SCAAMSPB1R -Microcontroller/Processor - ASIC

Power Supply (Internal - integrated on Main PCB)

Cisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Box ContentsCisco Explorer 8540HDC Set-Top Box - Box Contents

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