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Startup plans HD media processors

Posted: 17 Apr 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:rick merritt? ee times? vivace semiconductor? media processor? VLIW cores?

Vivace Semiconductor Inc. announced plans to roll out media processors capable of playing high-definition video while consuming less than half a watt. The startup aims to enable next-generation flat-panel TVs and portable media players by packing proprietary VLIW cores into its silicon, along with open-source hardware and software.

Vivace is leveraging silicon technology from the founder's previous startup into an opportunity it sees for portable players. The company is betting that those players will evolve to support high-definition output and living room flat panels. "There's a big push to get hard disks and personal video recorders (PVRs) built into the LCD or plasma display with all the codec support that it needs," said Cary Ussery, president of Vivace.

"There are a lot of new sockets emerging for this," he added. "We are already engaged with ODMs, particularly in Asia, looking for something they are not finding with Broadcom, TI or othersa single chip that sits next to the receiver and brings you everything you need to extend a display device with surround sound, video decoding and a PVR."

A separate chip will help portable players step up to a very rapid transition from 320pixel x 240pixel to 720-progressive video. "Even if the portable device cannot display high-def video itself, people will want to dock the device to show full D1-level video," Ussery said.

To tackle those jobs, Vivace is developing two multicore chips that handle a wide variety of codecs at relatively low clock rates and power dissipation. Supported codecs include simple and advanced-simple profiles for MPEG-4 as well as basic, main and high profiles for H.264. The chips will also support Microsoft's Windows Media Video (VC-1) and Macromedia Flash.

The portable chip, the VSP200, will deliver video at D1 resolution using less than 100mW of power. It will handle today's 320 x 240 displays at less than 15mW. The LCD-TV device, the VSP300, will run at about 200MHz to deliver 1,080-progressive resolution for less than 500mW.

The low power figures are credited to reconfigurable VLIW cores Ussery licensed from his previous startup, Improv Systems Inc. "That's the crux of our price/performance capability," Ussery said.

The Vivace chips will use a block of four Improv coresthree for video and one for audio. The video cores include a bit-stream processor, a transform engine handling discrete cosine and 4 x 4 transforms and a motion estimation/compensation block supporting hardware acceleration for key video tasks. A separate audio core handles 5.1 and 7.1 surround-sound processing on the VSP300. "Having multiple engines with a high level of parallelism, you can keep the clock rate down, and that brings down power. Lowering the clock rate will help simplify systems integration for building the board," Ussery said.

The startup is using a free RISC core and several peripheral blocks from "RISC cores are a commodity now and we don't want to have to pay a royalty to MIPS or ARM. We need to compete on cost," said Ussery. The chips will run a version of Linux 2.6 developed by Vivace. "Everyone we've talked to is talking about Linux," he said.

Vivace will provide a port of Windows Media DRM for content protection. It also will provide the software to handle the key A/V codecs and some cryptographic functions, such as SHA-1.

The chip architecture includes a fairly rich set of I/O blocks for a consumer device, including a 32bit PCI interface, a 10Mbit Ethernet MAC and USB 2.0. The higher-end VSP300 will also support surround sound, the HDMI content-protected video interface, a 64bit DDR2 memory interface and a VGA controller.

The company is not reporting the amount of memory the chips require, the size of its Linux OS or pricing until the devices are formally launched in May. The chips will be built in a 130nm process, sample in July and ship by the end of the year. That's assuming Vivace closes its Series A funding, aimed at getting the chips into production. The company already has seed funding from one of the key investors backing Improv Systems.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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