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Low-cost programmable logic drives innovation in consumer electronics

Posted: 16 Jun 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ce? pld? av? asic? assp?

If a consumer electronics (CE) company makes a hot-selling gadget, it will surely face a flood of competing copycats soon after. The rapid price erosion that ensues can be frustrating for the company that was first to market. At the same time, CE companies must take into account varying degrees of investments that consumers already have in analog and legacy A/V equipment before coming out with their next digital media products.

These conditions call for greater flexibility and agility in product development than are provided by ASSPs and ASICs. CE product developers often use ASSPs for AV encoding/decoding, connection interfaces, format translations and conversions. But relying on ASSPs exclusively does not allow developers to differentiate their products from others. Also, ASSPs are seldom available for the most current functions, so CE developers must often turn to custom ASICs.

Turning to PLD

ASICs have the advantage of low per-component prices, but the long development times that they require run counter to the need to innovate and offer distinguishing features in markets that are saturated with similar products. The high NRE costs needed for custom ASICs are also a significant barrier for developers. Hence, CE developers are increasingly turning to PLDs. Low-cost PLDs are currently used in dtvs, DVD players, handheld media players, STBs, home networks and computer peripherals.

CE product manufacturers who incorporate programmable logic into the right areas in their products can rapidly develop new features simply by modifying the PLD design. This capability enables them to offer multiple versions of the same product at introduction, develop new products in response to changing market demands with minimum additional engineering effort and provide upgrades to existing products in the field. Thus, CE product developers can take advantage of low-cost ASSPs for well-established functions while relying on programmable logic to deliver the differentiating capabilities of their product.

An example of this kind of innovation is the Studio MovieBox Deluxe from Pinnacle Systems. This device allows multiple video formats from analog and digital sources to be imported into a PC for editing. Many consumers have video content stored on analog tapes, while others have content stored in digital video format using a device, such as a digital video camcorder, that includes an IEEE 1394 (or Firewire) interface, but does not have an IEEE 1394 interface on their PC. The MovieBox Deluxe can connect these disparate types of video sources to a PC using a USB 2.0 interface.

After editing, the MovieBox can provide a connection between the PC and TV, VCR or digital camcorder for movie playback and storage. It includes several interfaces such as RCA and S-video I/Os for analog devices, as well as IEEE 1394 for digital devices. Inside the MovieBox Deluxe are ASSPs for handling these interfaces. There is also a single cyclone FPGA that handles the interaction between the ASSPs.

The MovieBox Deluxe operates in one of a limited number of modes, depending on which video source is being used. Since the device only needs to operate in one of these modes at any given time, Cyclone will work in any of these modes by reconfiguring itself on the fly. The time required to reconfigure the FPGA takes milliseconds and goes unnoticed by the user. The resulting FPGA design uses nearly one-third the amount of logic sources than it would have if Pinnacle had used a non-reconfigurable device.

To further reduce costs, the engineers decided to host the configuration files for the FPGA in the PC device driver for the MovieBox Deluxe. This scheme eliminated the need to include configuration memory devices in the hardware, reducing board space, component count and corresponding costs. By taking advantage of FPGA reconfigurability, manufacturing costs were kept to a minimum.

The current state of the CE market is forcing product developers to re-evaluate their existing development models. Traditional methods of relying on ASSPs or custom ASICs to achieve the lowest cost are proving inadequate for the demands of rapid innovation and increased product differentiation. Product developers can turn to programmable-logic-based solutions to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers.

Bernd Riemann, Director of Hardware Engineering

Martin Won, Sr. Technical Staff

Pinnacle Systems Inc.




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