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Codec nudges forward wireless stereo headsets

Posted: 03 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluetooth stereo headsets? audio codec? Bluetooth stereo codecs?

Open Interface North America (OINA) is rolling out a lossless audio codec that is said to push forward the shift to wireless stereo headsets. The codec promises better performance than its competitors without requiring new hardware.

The SoundAbout Lossless codec provides a near real-time performance with latency between 2-10ms. By contrast, the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) has latency of about 100ms and an open-source alternative called the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) can be tuned to about 25-50ms, said Tom Nault, OINA's chairman and CEO.

In addition, the new codec is symmetric. That means it takes about the same amount of processing powerroughly 20MIPSto encode or decode an audio stream. ALAC and FLAC generally take significantly more time to encode an audio stream than decode one.

Bluetooth 2.0 support
The codec also supports the relatively new Bluetooth version 2.0, which provides affective throughput of about 2.1Mbps. That compares to about 750Kbps for the previous version of the short-range wireless standard.

The software supports multichannel streaming and is independent of any sampling frequency. It can also be used for source material other than audio and networks other than Bluetooth.

OINA has demo software for the new codec up and running. It expects a production version of the code to ship to partners in time for them to build prototype headsets to demonstrate at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The code is based on the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), part of the Bluetooth spec that defines wireless stereo audio. Many handsets, including the Apple iPhone, still do not support A2DP.

A2DP includes a basic lossy codec called the sub-band codec (SBC) for stereo audio. OINA developed a proprietary extension of that codec that it uses in its current products.

OINA licenses its software to headset makers directly and to chipmakers who integrate it into their firmware. The company has licensed lossy Bluetooth stereo codecs to companies such as Samsung, Sony, STMicroelectroncs and Qualcomm.

Market boost
Bluetooth hardware is maturing, a fact that should help nudge the market for stereo headsets forward. "The first generation products for wireless audio did not meet the quality and power consumption requirements, but the current generation devices is where we will see some uptake," Nault said.

Those chips typically support Bluetooth 2.0. They also tend to integrate enough memory and ADC circuitry to bolster stereo audio processing and drive headset costs to about $100, Nault said.

The software is available on the x86 and ARM7 TDMI chips. It is also being ported to Broadcom's BCM2047 and Cambridge Silicon Radio's BlueCore5-Multimedia which supports Bluetooth 2.0.

CSR is the dominant supplier of Bluetooth silicon. Its existing BlueCore3-Multimedia part is one of the most widely sold Bluetooth parts today, said Nault.

License fees for the codec are based on volume sales. The company would not provide any price information.

OINA, focused on software for Bluetooth, was formed in 2000 when it spun off from its parent company in Japan. "We want to take Bluetooth into new areas," said Nault.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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