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Increasing DSP performance breeds new, unexpected applications

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

Keywords:dsp? communications? hard disk? voip? dsl?

As strange as it might sound, one of the pleasures of the DSP market is that system designers continue to surprise us. When we develop a new chip, we generally have specific markets in mind - but with each new generation of devices, system designers usually find a new set of inventive uses for our parts. They take the processing power we put in their hands and their creative minds to develop phenomenal applications-engineering at its finest.

From the time we released the first single-chip DSP more than 20 years ago, our customers have continued to raise the bar with innovative applications designed around our products. This trend will certainly continue unabated. So, each time we show our customers more performance, as we have this year with the demonstration of a 1GHz DSP, we look forward to the groundbreaking applications they will create.

Of course, not all applications catch us off-guard. Most of the time, we have an idea of what is coming prior to an application's development. For instance, we promoted DSPs as an enabler for digital cellphones because we knew that the technology had reached the level where digitized voice transmissions were not only feasible, but also economical. We also knew that the rush of audio/video and communications standards in the mid-1990s would require DSPs for compression, videoconferencing, DSL, cable modems and the many wireless telephony standards.

Still, we are unable to predict everything. With our very first DSP, we thought the primary target market was speech I/O, such as voice synthesis, recognition and verification. Instead, we soon found the chips being used in modems, hard-disk controllers and 3D graphics. We were indeed surprised, and we shortly revised our marketing strategy to align with our customers.

Our progression to 1GHz DSPs represents the latest move to a higher level of performance. We predict 1GHz DSPs will enable designers to pack many more channels into base stations, DSL line cards, routers, switches, video servers and other communication equipment. Digital still cameras will emerge with sensing arrays of greater than 10Mpixels, providing professional-quality digital photos. Greater accuracy in computer simulations will aid aerodynamic design, fluid and stress analysis, weather and environmental forecasts as well as other compute-intensive applications.

We can anticipate many other uses of 1GHz DSPs because they are extensions of existing applications. What we can't predict are the new uses creative designers will unleash. For instance, we know prosthetic design is starting to give some level of vision to those with a degree of impairment - and we hope before long even to the blind. But this field is in its infancy, and we do not know exactly what capabilities these artificial eyes might have.

Another factor contributing to the situation of predicting applications is that the DSP market has matured-considerably. Today, not just one, but many markets and industries are using the powerful processing found in DSPs. The first devices were generic in that they met the needs of multiple applications. Now we find that many applications need different versions on this base capability. Each application demands a unique core architecture, a different power budget, a different performance level and a different set of I/O.

A major lesson we have learned is that both vendors and users should not let ourselves get locked into preconceived notions about where DSPs can make a difference. We must eschew traditional thinking if we are to be successful and stay at the leading edge. Experience shows that this will certainly happen; we know for certain that we will be blindsided again. There is no way we can predict by whom or in what way - but, then, that's one of the particularly fascinating aspects of this industry.

- Gene Frantz

Business Development Manager

DSP Semiconductor Group

Texas Instruments Inc.

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