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Make way for software-based mobile TV

Posted: 08 Dec 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile TV? software hybrid? PC TV?

Armed with a reconfigurable multi-standard tuner IC, Mirics Semiconductor, a U.K.-based startup, claims that it still remains the only company offering a software-based TV and radio demodulator.

Software-based demodulation wasn't the company's original plan, though. "We wish we could take credit for it, but we stumbled into the idea, while developing our own demodulator," said Simon Atkinson, Mirics' CEO Atkinson, during a recent interview with EE Times.

Mirics thus far has done a beta release of software demodulator solutions that support a number of digital radio and TV standards. They include AM, FM, DAB, Korea's T-DMB, Europe's DVB-T and Japan's ISDB-T. Still in development are PAL/NTSC, China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting (CMMB), DTMB and ATSC.

However, this hybrid approach!a tuner in silicon and demodulator in software!goes against the grain. Most mobile TV chip companies have already followed the industry's mandate asking for a single-chip mobile TV tuner/demodulation solution.

The jury is still out whether Mimics' hybrid approach is a solution coming to the market too late or it proves to be a ground-breaking solution that could kick start still a lukewarm mobile TV market.

Eyes on x86
Mirics' initial target for its software/hardware-based mobile TV solutions is a x86-based PC platform.

Atkinson revealed that Mirics is also working hybrid solutions for cellphones, Mobile Internet Devices and other portable consumer devices.

While he is not saying when it will be ready, he hinted that the project will target ARM and leverage an unnamed GPU's accelerator.

By leveraging the existing CPU and memory resource, Mirics hopes it can eliminate the silicon demodulator, reducing mobile TV's footprint and cost. Perhaps more important, Mirics faces no development cost necessary for a complex RF SoC.

Atkinson promises that the hybrid approach will bring down the cost of DTV reception on a PC from conventional BOM of $15 to less than $5.

TV on PCs
TV function will be eventually embedded on a PC motherboard, instead of a dongle or a Mini Card, said Atkinson.

In Sept., Mirics won its first design-in for its FlexiTV multiband receiver chip, from Taiwanese wireless module specialist AzureWave Technologies.

AzureWave is working with several ODMs who will use the module!offered in a mini-card format!in a range of notebook and laptop PCs scheduled for shipment by the middle of next year.

The progress of PC's CPUs maps out well on Mirics' strategy.

"It's not just about increased clocking speed," said Atkinson. "Substantial expansion of DSP-like capability, SIMD instruction set and multimedia signal processing features now capable in CPUs make it possible to do all these TV demodulation in software."

Entering China market
Meanwhile, Mirics' RF tuner chip!with the third party's demodulation chip!continues to be the company's bread and butter.

Mirics announced last week a partnership with China's Spreadtrum Communications, Inc. to deliver mobile TV to portable personal computers. The solution is based on the CMMB standard.

Mirics provides RF tuner chip called FlexiRF, while Spreadtrum offers a home-grown democudator/decoder SoC. Together, the two companies will bring CMMB-based broadcast mobile TV features to notebook and sub-notebook PCs.

Gaining a foothold in the Chinese market is a big step for Mirics.

Separately, Mirics is also developing its own CMMB demodulator to run on a PC's CPU in software.

Whether implemented in a dongle or mini-card, notebook PCs with analog/digital TV reception capabilities, however, have never really taken off on the market.

Asked why, Atkinson said, "TV on a PC has to work every time; and it has to be almost free." By shifting the demodulation task to a CPU, Mirics hopes its hybrid solution can fuel a PCTV phenomenon that has yet to catch fire.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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