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Sony base station streams media content anytime, anywhere

Posted: 20 Dec 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:4G? LF-V30 teardown? place-shifting A/V controller? DSP? Wi-Fi?

It's a media junkie's dream: watch your real-time or time-shifted video with a suitably fast Internet connection whether across the house or across the world. The generically dubbed "place shifting" is made possible by Sony's LF-V30, which implements the piping and control of audio/video content from a central environment to a remote location over broadband.

Popularized by Sling Media's SlingBox in 2005, place-shifting actually has even earlier origins; it is generally believed that Sony, in 2004, was the first to market a commercial device. Whatever their history, the whole class of devices places viewers in command, entertaining them as if at home.

Wireless gaming
The $250 LF-V30 is 4G in the LocationFree line and adds Wi-Fi connectivity to Ethernet in its network interface. With the flick of a switch, the device can act either as a wireless access point or as a wireless client. The unit includes an IR blaster, allowing home components to be controlled from afar. High-definition video can be input from sources such as cable boxes, DVRs and DVD players, but by the time it is recast to a receiving device such as a notebook computer, streamed content is down to standard-definition QVGA resolution. Oh, well.

Unlike its competitors, the LF-V30 can stream to the Sony PSP handheld game device. Encouraging a larger Sony ecosystem, the company's VAIO PC division has begun loading LocationFree viewing software on notebooks. It also can beam to sister company Sony Ericsson's P990i smart phone and to software-upgraded Windows Mobile6 devices.

Robust design
The dictionary-sized box has simple status lights and control buttons on the front and AV plus network connectors on the back. Enclosures are sleek and somewhat complex. Two outer skins surround an elaborate plastic central frame that supports two boards: one for media I/O (interface board) and one for network connectivity and processing. The second board consists of two assemblies separating the media and network processing electronics (processor board) from the mini-PCI Wi-Fi board.

In the interface board, RCA jacks for component and composite AV input/feed-through join with S-Video connectors. Only a six-channel video amplifier and pair of dual op-amps from New Japan Radio are used to condition, boost and buffer signals.

The larger board, to which all AV inputs flow, also has the connector for the Ethernet interface and the socket for the 80211.a/b/g mini-PCI card. Wireless connectivity continues its path of simplification, and the Atheros AR5413 provides one high-water mark in integration. A small EEPROM, dual-band RF amplifier (2.4GHz and 5GHz for 802.11b/g and 802.11a, respectively) from Sharp and a TriQuint diversity RF switch are the only other active components, for the AR5413 integrates all digital MAC/Baseband functions with the multiband Wi-Fi radio.


The $250 Sony LF-V30 is 4G in the LocationFree line and adds Wi-Fi connectivity to Ethernet in its network interface.
(Click to view teardown.)

Wired connectivity is supported by an STMicro #STE100 10/100 Ethernet PHY-layer chip. A Toshiba #TMPR4938 64bit RISC chip takes care of both the Ethernet MAC layer duties and the interface to the Wi-Fi mini-PCI card. It also serves as the overall network processor and is supported by 32Mbytes of Samsung Mobile SDRAM. Via a bus transceiver, the Toshiba CPU also accesses 64Mbytes of Samsung NAND flash to store code. An 8bit NEC CPU manages system housekeeping and any user inputs.

Incoming signals are first decoded in an NXP #SAA7136 chip for next-level processing. It's a little hazy which device performs which task, but most likely the TI #TMS320DM340 video DSP handles scaling and image enhancement. The DM340's companion 32Mbyte DDR SDRAM speaks to the needs of localized high-speed image processing.

One mysterious part is an Altera MAXII complex programmable logic device, which could perform tasks ranging from basic system logic in integrated (but non-ASIC) form to a dedicated signal-processing hardware block. The LF-V30 supports the PSP handheld, so it may play a role in proprietary formatting for that device. Connections between the CPLD and the Toshiba CPU are clear, suggesting a bent toward specialty network engine needs.

Sony's design, and place-shifting designs, represent yet another form of Internet-enabled telepresence, allowing users to "be there" without being anywhere near.

- David Carey
President, Portelligent

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