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Marvell gears up for 4K revolution

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:video? 4K? set-top boxes?

Cable, satellite, broadcast, or IPTV service providers have been eager pleasers, always coming up with fresh new features, functions and premium content to keep customers happy. This puts design pressure on SoC providers, which are left to their own devices to not only generate up-to-the-minute products, but also future-proof them for next-generation set-top boxes.

In that spirit, on Wednesday, Sept. 10, Marvell is unveiling at IBC in Amsterdam an Ultra HD SoC integrated with 12K DMIPS quad-core ARM CPU. Dubbed ARMADA 1500 PRO 4K, it's the new baby in Marvell's ARMADA family of video platform chips.

Integrated with a variety of interfaces (Gigabit Ethernet for IPTV, DVB-T/S input) the chip is designed for "hybrid boxes" that can receive terrestrial broadcast, pay TV, and IP content on the same platform.

ARMADA 1500 Pro 4K

Marvell's ARMADA 1500 Pro 4K targets the hybrid set-top with wireless connectivity. Source: Marvell

Compared to Broadcom and STMicroelectronics, who have long dominated the pay TV set-top box market with their SoCs, Marvell is a relative newcomer. But as more and more over-the-top (OTT) content begins to cohabit with pay-TV premium content in an open platform, Edward Silva, senior product manager, says, "Video is a big growth area for Marvell."

The company jumped in the TV set-top market by closely aligning itself with Google TV several years ago. Now, it's making up ground on the set-top market worldwide. While still a close partner with Google in supporting Android TV and Google's upcoming Android L, Marvell is also making its SoCs compliant with other "open" platforms such as Reference Design Kit (RDK) C originated by Comcast, Silva explained.

Emerging trends

Among pay-TV, satellite, and IPTV operators looking for next-gen set-tops, several trends are emerging.

First, operators who long clung to proprietary middleware are increasingly pushing for "open standards," Silva says. Comcast-initiated RDK, for example, supports generic building blocks such as Linux OS, DRM by Adobe, and execution environments such as QT and WebKit.

Second, support for HEVC (H.265) is becoming a must for many operators' new boxes, he said. They see it as critical for the upcoming 4K UHDTV era. In fact, all RFQs for boxes to be deployed starting 2015 require HEVC, he says.

Although 4K content is still limited, and the timing for 4K rollout differs from one operator to another, service providers "are watching the timeline carefully" in order to migrate from 1080p to 2160p. For that reason, Marvell made the new chip "pin compatible" with the company's previous chip, ARMADA 1500 Pro, unveiled earlier this year. Marvell's new ARMADA 1500 Pro 4K SoC features 3840 x 2160 p60 10 bit HEVC video decode capabilities.

Third, the processing power required for the new generation of set-tops is "jumping up to 10K to 15K DMIPs." Operators worldwide are looking for much more powerful CPU/GPU performance. He describeds the ARMADA 1500 Pro 4K featuring 12K DMIPs 1.2GHz quad core ARM CA9 as "hitting the sweet spot." The more processing power will enable TV operators to offer immersive TV apps.

Fourth, because content received on the main box can be viewed on multiple screens at home, WiFi connectivity on set-tops is becoming a must have for operators.

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