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Firm moves to high-end chips for PMPs

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

Keywords:Actions Semiconductor? Series 13? multimedia chips? personal media players? PMPs?

After making its name in China for basic MP3 chips, Actions Semiconductor Co. Ltd is moving up-market with two new chip series for personal media players (PMPs). The Zhuhai, China-based company is also planning to add basic gaming functionality to its high-end SoCs and is in the early stages of building up an IP portfolio for mobile TV.

Actions has come a long way since its founding in 2001. Last year, the company was the second Chinese fabless designer to do an IPO on the Nasdaq exchange, with interest generated by its dominant position in the non-iPod MP3 player market. Actions said it shipped 50 million SoCs last year.

Today, Actions is upping the ante on some of its competitors, including SigmaTel Inc., with which it has butted heads regarding patents. Targeting a $200 million to $250 million market, Actions will sample its Series 13 platform for PMPs in the next few months, with the goal of mass production toward year's end.

So far, Actions has used a proprietary 8bit MCU/24bit DSP combination for its music-centric devices, but that will change due to the video demands of Series 13. Actions intends to use a 32bit MIPS core to link with its DSP and will run a Linux OS on top of that. It will also use this product line to make the transition from 0.25?m to 0.18?m.

H.264 support coming
Series 13 chips will be able to handle all the basics, such as MP3, WMA and WAV, plus OGG Vorbis, APE and the Audible book format. It will play and record video based on WMV, AMV, MPEG-4 Simple Profile and MJPEG at QVGA 30fps. It will also support Windows Media DRM10 and PlaysForSure.

Actions has a team in Beijing working on an H.264 algorithm and expects to have it ready soon.

Actions also released its Acurio 7500 series last month, targeting the "value" segment of the PMP market that the company estimates will reach $150 million to $200 million this year.

The three products in the 7500 seriesthe 7502, 7515 and 7517are all based on Actions' proprietary 8bit MCU and a 24bit DSP. They support MP3, WMA and WAV playback, plus voice record, and have also added support for OGG Vorbis, Windows DRM10 and an FM tuner.

Actions is also upgrading to USB 2.0 for this series, which enables it to build in dual buffers and achieve read/write speeds of 5MBps. The 7515 and 7517 also include MPEG-4 video playback, MP3 encode, and support for MMC/SD cards and Li-ion batteries. The 7517 supports multiple operating systems.

The 7502 is packaged in a 64-pin LQFP; the 7515 comes in an 80-pin LQFP; and the 7517 in a 100-pin LQFP.

Over a year, Actions will build in Bluetooth headset support and Wi-Fi for its high-end devices. The company is also taking its first look at the mobile TV space and partnering with a U.S. company on demodulation IP. As it did in Wi-Fi, Actions will look to an outside design house for the RF and tuner components of its mobile TV platform. Actions doesn't expect the mobile TV market to become mainstream for another two years.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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