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Wireless multimedia: Questions, few answers

Posted: 16 May 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:networked multimedia? wireless phone? pda? multimedia processing? cellphone?

Many in the communications sector see networked multimedia as the killer application that will jump-start the market. But consumers will need more convincing before they agree to throw away the wireless phones, PDAs, or Internet access devices they are using now. And they will be demanding about a raft of issues, including the quality of transmission, voice, data and video output, ease of use as well as network infrastructure.

In many ways, wireless networked multimedia is a microcosm of the larger net-centric computing and communications environment in which developers must work. Here, they face a bewildering array of market definitions of "multimedia," and questions about how to achieve a desired end in a networked environment with a confusing mix of protocols, mechanisms, and standards.

For chip and system designers, the problem is how to deal with the high-performance needs of some types of multimedia processing while remaining sufficiently general purpose to be used in other types of processing. Then, they have to do it all in as small a footprint as possible and with minimal power consumption and dissipation.

Designers are looking into a range of alternatives. Noel Hurley, consumer entertainment-segment manager at ARM Ltd, notes that the underlying processor architecture that will satisfy the many requirements of wireless multimedia requires a special mix of DSP, RISC, multiprocessing, and SIMD characteristics. And because that mix may vary with the application, Hurley said, ARM's approach is a flexible SoC core that licensees may modify, adding capabilities as functional co-processing elements. "No single solution is going to optimize a wireless network for highest performance, low cost and power efficiency," he said. "But by combining these high-performance components and methodologies effectively, the cumulative impact on performance is significant."

However, even the most flexible architectures do not deal with the realities of design in this still volatile environment, said contributor Larry Przybylski, principal software engineer at Media Works Technology Corp. It often takes many iterations to determine the right mix for a particular wireless-multimedia segment.

"Sending still images over Bluetooth to and from a network-enabled digital camera; moving video and synchronized voice for a high-end 3G/4G cellphone; performing mixed graphics, animation and voice in an existing cellphone--all require different mixes of instructions and hardware capabilities," Przybylski said. For that reason, Media Works uses configurable processors from companies such as Altera and Tensilica.

- Bernard Cole

EE Times

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