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Chipmakers pack multimedia functions in processors

Posted: 01 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multimedia processor? video chip? H.264?

Semiconductor vendors tailoring video chips for the consumer market have taken integration to the next level. As price pressure from consumers persists in the flat-panel, DTV, DVD player, notebook and mobile phone sectors, chip companies are taking a cue from OEMs to provide devices that pack more video functions to minimize costs.

This year, at least three Japanese chipmakersRenesas, NEC and Toshibahave developed application processors that not only include more advanced video functions, such as H.264/MPEG-4 support, but consume lower power. They are joined by U.S. vendors LSI and Sigma Designs.

Renesas has released the latest member in the SH-Mobile series of application processors for portable multimedia systems. The SH-MobileR2 brings multimedia capability to such products as personal navigation devices, portable media players and video and VoIP terminals.

The SH-MobileR2 operates about 1.5 times as fast as the first generation and delivers higher levels of processing performance in encoding and decoding audio and visual data, Renesas said.

Video chip vendors are adding advanced codec support.

Video functions
The SH7723, the first application processor in the series, has a host of on-chip peripherals, including a video processing unit 5F (VPU5F) multicodec video processing function and an IP block that achieves high performance with low power use. The VPU5F supports the H.264/MPEG-4 video compression standard used in Internet streaming applications and can perform VGA-size encoding and decoding at 30fps. It also supports MPEG-4 encoding and decoding and VC-1 decoding, making it possible to implement video e-mail, video phone and video-capture applications. The device also incorporates the SH-4A CPU core, which operates at up to 400MHz and has a floating-point unit to increase processing efficiency. At 400MHz, processing performance is 720 MIPS, and floating point unit performance is 2.8GFLOPS.

Streaming apps
Toshiba is shipping the SpursEngine SE1000, a stream processor that integrates a hardware codec for full high-definition (HD) encoding and decoding of MPEG-2 and H.264 streams with four synergistic processing element cores derived from the Cell Broadband Engine, a RISC architecture jointly developed by Toshiba, Sony and IBM for accelerating multimedia processing. These advanced processing elements are said to offer high-performance media streaming capabilities, with a clock frequency of 1.5GHz, while achieving a power consumption range of 10W to 20W.

Toshiba will support developers of SpursEngine applications with a comprehensive reference kit that includes a reference board and essential middleware APIs. The board has a PCIe edge connector that can connect to an x1 layer slot in a PC. Toshiba will also provide an integrated development environment (synergistic processor element compiler and debugger and performance monitor) and sample applications that show how to use the middleware.

NEC Electronics has introduced two image-processing devices based on its enhanced multimedia architecture (EMMA) platform. The EMMA3SL/HD and EMMA3SL/SD enable users to build STBs and DTVs with H.264 video compression standard, which offers twice the compression ratio of the current MPEG2 standard. The EMMA3SL/SD SoC supports standard-definition video broadcasts; the EMMA3SL/HD SoC supports HD broadcasts.

In addition to having an H.264-compliant video decoder, the devices combine all of the key functions needed to receive and decode digital broadcasts, including built-in DSPs that enable systems using Dolby Digital Plus or high-efficiency advanced audio coding to play back high-quality audio streams even at low transfer rates.

A built-in Enhanced Host Controller Interface-compliant USB 2.0 host controller and IEEE 802.3/802.3u/802.3x-compliant Ethernet MAC replace the external components traditionally required. The integration enables low-cost connection to external devices and networks, and makes it easy for systems to import and process video and audio streams.

The EMMA3SL/HD SoC integrates an HDMI-compliant interface for digital transmission of uncompressed video and audio streams, a de-interlacer to convert interlaced signals into progressive signals and a DAC to produce HD signal output.

Media SoCs
LSI created the media gateway architecture that is employed in its two latest StarPro media processors: the SP2603 and SP2612. The media gateway SoCs offer low power consumption and video transcoding for mobile video and enterprise collaboration services.

According to LSI, the SP2603 and SP2612 let manufacturers build more cost-effective high-density platforms that support advanced voice services and video processing in a range of network environments. The products include a comprehensive software development environment and leading voice, fax and video codecs supporting H.263, H.264 and MPEG-4.

The media gateway architecture is scalable up to 12 DSP cores per chip, providing a single platform for applications ranging from entry-level multiservice business gateways to wireless carrier-class media gateways. All SoCs are equipped with embedded CPUs, on-board memory for voice applications, and carrier-class packet processing engines to support advanced QoS and traffic management.

Sigma Designs has begun sampling its SMP8654 media processor SoC for next-generation Internet protocol TV STBs. Compared with its predecessor, the SMP8654 is said to provide a 50 percent improvement in performance, along with lower overall system costs, by integrating multimedia processing, content security, multiple on-chip CPUs and a host of system peripherals.

The multicore processor features a 500MHz MIPS 24K main CPU and a second MIPS processor that manages interrupt operations and offloads system tasks from the main CPU. A third MIPS processor manages all system security functions, including decryption and key generation.

The SMP8654 offers advanced decoder engines with HD video decode, including H.264, Windows Media Video 9, VC-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 (part 2), and the AVS standard. Other features include high-performance graphics acceleration, multistandard audio decoding, advanced display processing and HDMI 1.3 output.

- Ismini Scouras
EE Times

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