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A primer on debugging video apps and beyond

Posted: 30 Dec 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:debug? system design? failure analysis? software? hardware?

The effective identification and debug of semiconductor issues is crucial for the technical teams involved in system design and delivery. The challenging combination of increased system complexity and decreased time to market can result in extreme pressure on resolving issues in the shortest time possible C what engineer hasn't been asked to deliver their fix yesterday? At time of such intense pressure, it can be difficult to follow a logical and structured approach in debugging an issue. Conversely though, following a logical and structured approach in debugging an issue is the very key to a timely resolution.

It is clear that a comprehensive debug framework could save engineers significant time and frustration in debugging complex semiconductor issues. Using illustrative examples, this article describes such a framework. Although video products are used as a lens to examine how semiconductor issues can manifest and be resolved, the framework outlined here should be considered as generic and applicable to many semiconductors and problems. Starting with the review of the application against any available reference schematics and layouts and culminating with the submission of parts through official failure analysis channels, this guide attempts to provide as comprehensive a framework as possible.

Don't panic
The front cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [Adams, Douglas (1981), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, New York: Pocket Books, 1981] famously called out a calming message to those who were lucky enough to possess a copy: Don't Panic. Douglas Adam's famously wrote that "despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words "DON'T PANIC" in large, friendly letters on the cover".

We've all been there though. The demo system is overdue for delivery, the marketing department are on the phone looking for updates and a small group of engineers in the lab pours over a board which refuses to act as it was intended to. It is at times like this that an intergalactic traveller would reach for the Guide. Engineers have many alternatives to the Guide C the Internet, The Art of Electronics or even one of Dilbert's many insightful cartoons. Such an exalted list is now augmented by this article C a fault-finding recipe that engineers can use to alleviate the panic when it occurs.

Start with software....
Every engineer has their own biases towards starting a debug with either software or hardware. Temporarily suppressing these biases (although the author does have a hardware background...), software can often be the best place to start a debug given the ability to change complex elements reasonably quickly and the sticky nature of hardware (e.g. the lead time involved in non-bill of materials changes).

Silicon vendors invest significant time and resources prior to releasing products to define optimal configuration settings which work across a range of operation conditions, such as process variations, temperature and voltage. Modern semiconductor devices such as HDMI receivers rely heavily on the use of optimal configuration settings to ensure their stable and robust operation. Although extra settings may need to be added to the core configuration settings to address application specific issues (e.g. input muxing, color space conversion), the core configuration settings must be maintained without adjustment.

When confronted with an issue, the configuration settings being employed in the application must be examined as a priority. If the configuration settings being employed do not match those recommended by the silicon vendor, the next step must be to change those settings before immediately retesting. The impact of incorrect settings can range from the slight (e.g. blurred video due to filters being disabled) to the serious (e.g. complete absence of video or failing compliance).

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