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TI launches home multimedia engine

Posted: 26 Apr 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:texas instruments? ti? c54x? dsp? arm9 risc processor?

Texas Instruments Inc. has launched an IC aimed at home streaming media that integrates the company's C54x DSP, an ARM9 RISC processor and a host of peripherals.

Tom Kelly, business development manager for TI's Streaming Media group, cited "digital media receivers/adapters" and IP STBs as two target applications for the TMS320DM342DSP chip. The former box is connected to a home PC via a wired or wireless LAN. The latter is a dedicated set-top that receives services such as subscription movies from a broadband provider, he explained.

The DM342 is already sampling, and volume production is scheduled for summer. Pitched as a multimedia engine that can meet the low price point required by IP set-tops, the chip supports multi-format audio, video and imaging content, TI said, though it declined to cite a price. However, Kelly estimated that a single OEM board equipped with the DMS342, an audio codec, Ethernet MAC/PHY silicon, off-chip memory, a power supply and a very inexpensive microcontroller would sell for about $40 to $50.

Once a consumer electronics product gets linked to broadband, its access to the Internet "opens up" whole new applications, Kelly said. Such digital streaming-media boxes must simultaneously support a number of advanced media formats in addition to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, he added. They include MPEG-4, H.264, Windows Media Video 9 and H.263 for videoconferencing and video chat sessions. In the emerging market for streaming-media consumer devices, a basic single-format box with limited ability to decode various types of video won't be attractive to consumers, Kelly said.

The emphasis of the DM342 design is on flexibility and low cost, rather than support for high-definition (HD) video. The chip can decode standard-definition video at 30 frames/second of MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 in D1 (720 x 480-pixel) resolution. For Windows Media Video 9 and H.264, the DM342 decodes video at less than full SD resolution. More specifically, Kelly said, the DM342 supports only half-D1 resolution for H.264, while offering half- to 2/3-D1 resolution for Windows Media Video 9. TI's previously announced high-end video/ imaging DSP, called DM642, is designed for high-definition display.

The new DM342 comes with an integrated ARM926EJ-S RISC core and a number of peripherals, including a video encoder with video DAC, USB 2.0 dual-role OTG controller and seamless interface to most popular memory cards. "This leads to significant cost savings for system vendors," Kelly said.

TI is not the only semiconductor manufacturer gearing up for the emerging digital media receiver/IP set-top market. Kelly, however, contends that most chip companies won't be able to respond adequately to the diversified media-format needs of the IP set-top market. Even if they offer new chips integrated with hardwired cores to handle advanced video codecs, such a traditional hardwired approach "would eat up too much silicon space, and it would never be able to run all these different media streams at the same time," he said.

Programmable vs. hardwired

Michelle Abraham, In-Stat's senior market analyst, cautioned that it is premature to assume all IP boxes will use programmable processors. She noted that Europe and Asia are the large markets for IP boxes, though not all offer multiple codecs. "The telcos make an investment in the headend equipment, so they are likely to choose one video compression scheme and may choose boxes with hardwired ICs," she said.

Meanwhile, competing DSP companies such as Equator Technologies Inc., Philips Semiconductors and Analog Devices Inc. are rolling out multimedia engines of their own. Equator announced a month ago its lowest-cost media processor, priced at $19 and capable of multiformat video coding in full D1 resolution. Earlier this year, Analog Devices unveiled a portfolio of Blackfin DSP processors, some already designed into Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Center Extender. Using a microarchitecture that combines DSPs and RISC microcontrollers, Blackfin not only decodes multiple media formats, but also functions as a processor controlling a system, ADI said.

Kelly cited TI's ability to handle "high-level integration" and its "leading-edge fab and advanced process technology" as two factors that set it apart from competitors.

In-Stat/MDR analyst Mike Wolf estimated that the market for streaming-media receivers alone was "only at about 150,000 units in 2003 but is poised for growth in late 2004 and 2005 due to the push from Microsoft. When combined with IP boxes, In-Stat's Abraham said, "The two together are expected to be about 1.1 million [units] in 2004 and over 9 million in 2007."

The biggest problem, said Wolf, is interoperability. "The market is flooded with an array of confusing form factors and market terms, resulting in failure in the market in general," he said.

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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