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Multimedia processors arm for price, feature race

Posted: 16 Jan 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mike Clendenin?

Lured by the growing demand for mobile multimedia processors, Taiwan's Mobilic Technology Corp. aims to launch two IC product lines, promising system makers the features of a high-end smart phone at the price of a midtier feature phone.

The Taiwan company, which has already fielded two camera image processors, is intensifying its efforts to be a long-term player in the market with the MP830 and MP730 series, primarily made for mobile phones, but also suitable for personal media players, PDAs, camcorders and GPS devices.

After about two years in the market, Mobilic Technology is emerging from startup phase. Competition will range from local players like Sunplus Technology and Chinese startups such as Chipnuts and Vimicro, to established companies like Texas Instruments. TI recently released the successor to its OMAP line of application processors, which dominates the market.

Mobilic CEO Joseph Jiang isn't deterred. "We had the same problem before with our earlier imaging chips. There was lots of competition from companies like Vimicro and Sunplus, but we actually did pretty well in that area," he said.

Both processors are based on a 200MHz ARM926EJ-S CPU. Except for the ARM, USB host and physical layer, the engineering team developed the IP in-house. For the emerging handheld video market, the team included an internally developed video codec supporting MPEG-4 with VGA resolution of 15fps and CIF resolution at 30fps.

Other features include an MP3/WMA decoder, with a planned software upgrade to support Windows digital rights management, a 2D graphics acceleration engine and interfaces for high-resolution LCD, TV, Ethernet, SD/MMC cards and USB 1.1. The USB host feature will allow users to connect with other USB-enabled devices, either for photo or video sharing or to back up data.

The MP830 series includes power management and internal stacked DRAM. It can support CMOS and CCD image sensors at 1.3Mpixels (the MP831), 3Mpixels (the MP833) and 5Mpixels (the MP835). It also builds in compensation for flicker control and defective-pixel correction, and supports 16x digital zoom.

The MP730 chip will target systems for which performance and network connectivity trump concerns over power consumption, such as Internet Protocol cameras, security cameras and digital camcorders. It includes additional interfaces for NOR flash, SDRAM and 10/100 Ethernet.

Mobilic is drawing upon the experience of engineers from both California and Taipei to not only get the product out the door on time, but also on budget.

Despite its small team of eight engineers, Mobilic finished the project from concept to tape-out in nine months, said John Ren, VP of IC engineering and a co-founder. "The problem wasn't so much in the difficulty of the technology, but the physical resources that I had in the engineering team. Communication across the ocean and different time zones raised difficulties," he said.

The MP830 and MP730 series are made in an 0.18m process at Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. in Shanghai, China. Both chips are sampling, with volume production expected in Q1 this year. The chips will be priced at about $10 each in lots of 10,000.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times




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