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Sand Video crafts core for mobile TV

Posted: 16 Jan 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:h.264? main profile? sand video? mobile tv? cellphone?

The integration of TV-viewing capabilities onto mobile phones, once considered a frivolous waste of battery power, appears to be gaining favor among handset vendors and chip suppliers as a potentially irresistible application for users.

Hoping to ride this emerging wave, startup Sand Video Inc. launched what it calls the industry's first licensable H.264 core designed specifically for mobile TV and other video applications on cellphones, PDAs and automobile navigation systems.

The core represents a new direction for Sand Video and may foreshadow the moves of other H.264 silicon developers: It involves the H.264 standard's Baseline Profile, rather than the Main Profile that has been the focus of most development efforts for H.264-compliant solutions.

The H.264 Main Profile is primarily for next-generation satellite/cable STBs and high-definition DVD players, giving service providers and system vendors an ability to use high compression rates to offer higher-resolution video on big screen TVs. In contrast, the H.264 Baseline Profile is specifically optimized for mobile applications on a smaller screen, while incorporating additional error correction features.

Sand Video's SVIP01LP, a derivative of the SV-IP01 Main Profile core the company launched in July 2003, arrives "in direct response to specific customers' requests," said Sand Video president Peter Besen.

Announcements prompted the company to pursue the emerging TV-on-mobile market, including the launch of digital satellite-based mobile multimedia services scheduled to begin in Japan and South Korea next summer. "The industry, until now, has underestimated TV applications on mobile handsets," Besen said.

Mobile Broadcasting Corp., a consortium of 63 companies in Japan, is offering such mobile multimedia services, supporting a total data rate above 7Mbps through the combined use of a broadcasting satellite and terrestrial gap fillers. MBC will be sharing the satellite platform with SK Telecom in South Korea.

H.264 offers significant savings in bandwidth compared with other video compression standards, Sand Video said. For mobile video applications in CIF resolution, for example, the H.264 Baseline Profile requires only 250Kbps. MPEG-2, by contrast, requires 900Kbps, and MPEG-4 needs 500Kbps, Besen said. For non-mobile Main Profile applications, MPEG-2 video compressed at 1Mbps can be efficiently compressed by H.264 Main Profile at 350Kbps.

Sand Video's SVIP01LP H.264 Baseline Profile core can support a range of resolutions up to full D1 resolution at 30fps. The company says the core is designed for cellphones and other power-sensitive applications; Besen said it consumes "less than 50mW for CIF resolution at 30fps for devices fabricated in 0.13?m processes." For VGA resolution, the core consumes 125mW.

In contrast, the company's H.264 Main Profile SV-IP01 core, capable of decoding high-definition video, consumes 500mW. The Main Profile-compliant chips support all broadcast formats up to 720 progressive and 1,080 interlaced.

In general, the H.264 Main Profile core is designed to provide better picture performance and comes with more complicated technical features. These include its use of B-frames and the context-adaptive binary-arithmetic coding (Cabac) scheme. Both Cabac and B-frames are removed from the H.264 Baseline Profile core. The latter core also has more resilient error correction capabilities optimized for mobile applications.

Sand Video is confident that its H.264 Baseline Profile core will be more power-efficient than any DSP solution with comparable performance.

The Baseline Profile core is available to customers in soft-macro form or as Verilog code, and is currently running in an FPGA. With additional customization, Sand Video has promised to deliver the core to customers within 90 days after an order is placed.

Sand Video, whose main business is developing ICs rather than licensing cores, is on schedule to deliver commercial samples of its single-chip implementation of the H.264 decoder and a full silicon-based encoder/decoder chip this year. Sand Video has demonstrated its H.264 technologies at various trade shows recently.

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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