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Atsana processor handles video for handheld apps

Posted: 03 Oct 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:atsana semiconductor? j2210? media processor? mpeg 4 encoder? mpeg 4 decoder?

Atsana Semiconductor Corp. is bringing its first media processor, dubbed the J2210 encoder/decoder, to the market, which targets landing sockets in cellphones, PDAs, and other handheld devices looking to wirelessly stream video signals.

Media processing has been a hot topic in the wireless terminal space of late, with a handful of suppliers looking to counter Texas Instruments Inc.'s Open Multimedia Applications Platform (OMAP) offering. Intel Corp. recently offered a wireless MMX chip engineered to handle MPEG-4 and other multimedia streams in cellphones.

Atsana hopes to distinguish its media processor with an implementation that features low power consumption.

The company's biggest challenge may come from inertia, not technology. "Right now, TI is still in the catbird seat," said Will Strauss, president of research firm Forward Concepts. "I do not see anything that will knock them off their pedestal."

Not that others have not tried. Intel attempted to prove that a single Xscale processor could handle the same tasks TI tackled with a dual-processor approach. But to keep clock frequency down, Intel realized that a two-chip solution was better, Strauss added.

Limited partners

To survive in the market, Strauss said, a standalone media processor developer such as Atsana needs to align closely with a company on the baseband processing front. And with TI holding such a large share and Intel married to its architecture, only a few players are left for Atsana to line up with.

Where Atsana could gain ground is with its focus on power. If the company can deliver on its promise of a sub-80mW power-dissipation figure, then it may gain the attention of handset developers.

Like TI's OMAP approach, Atsana is blending an ARM9 processor with DSP technology. However, while TI preaches a very long instruction word architecture and pipelined approach, Atsana is going to the opposite extreme with a single-instruction, multiple-data architecture.

The heart of Atsana's J2210 chip is an array processor made up of 96 8-bit computational units. A 4KB memory array is attached to each one of these units. After a video stream is received, it is sliced into individual tasks; an individual task is executed in a single clock cycle.

"The benefit of this approach is reduced frequency. By using many processors to execute a single task in a single clock cycle, the chip can operate at lower clock frequencies than other media processing solutions, thereby saving on power consumption," said Vijay Dube, director of business development at Atsana.

The chip consumes <75mW when handling MPEG-4 QCIP at 15fps. According to Dube, other media processing solutions on the market - whether standalone processors or media processing ASICs - consume roughly 200mW to 300mW.

In a cellphone design, the chip connects directly to a camera. The chip immediately processes video streams sent from the camera. During this processing, the array processor does the heavy lifting, handling tough video processing tasks such as motion estimation, Dube added.

The ARM, on the other hand, is left to handle higher-level commands, such as calls for discrete cosine transforms. The ARM9 then sends the compressed MPEG-4 stream to the mobile's existing baseband processor. By handing off an already compressed stream, the chip reduces overhead for the mobile's baseband processor, Dube said.

During video processing, the chip consumes approximately 45 percent of the processing power provided by its on-board ARM9. Designers can then tap into the remaining processing power to handle additional multimedia tasks, such as MP3, Dube said.

One interesting feature of the chip is that the computation units can access their attached memory blocks as well as other memory blocks in the array. By letting the units access multiple arrays, the chip can perform a full motion search, thus improving the chip's ME capabilities. "We can deliver a better-quality picture at lower bit rates," Dube said.

The chip encodes and decodes MPEG-4, JPEG, and JPEG2000 streams. Specifically, the IC can perform MPEG-4 QCIF at 30fps, MPEG-4 CIF, JPEG 1.3 Mpixel+, MJPEG-VGA at better than 15fps, as well as color conversion and image pre-processing.

The chip also includes programmable audio and voice support for vocoders such as CELP, AMR, G.723.1, G.726a, and G.729. Atsana is also working on an H.26L implementation for the chip, Dube said.

The J2210 is sampling now, with volume production scheduled by year-end. Priced at $19 each for samples, with a goal of sub-$10 pricing in volume, the chip will initially be delivered in a 12-by-12mm package. The company will push this package down to 10x10mm square in early 2003, Dube said.

- Robert Keenan

EE Times

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