SANTA CLARA, Calif. To keep a share of the market it helped nurture, Zoran Corp. introduced a highly integrated digital still camera-on-a-chip on Monday (Oct. 26).
Zoran's third-generation digital still camera device, called Coach, integrates all of the functional blocks needed for a digital still camera, including a CCD signal processor, video input mixer, on-screen-display (OSD) capability, LCD/TV-out encoder, D/A converter, JPEG compression engine, flash memory controller, and a variety of glueless interface blocks to support USB, IrDA, audio and serial ports as well as a microcontroller interface.
Builders of digital still cameras only need to add "a CCD or CMOS sensor, 16/32-Mbit SDRAM, a very low-cost 8-bit microcontroller for building a user interface, and an optional LCD module," according to Shmuel Farkash, vice president of video products at Zoran (Santa Clara, Calif.).
Coach has two key cores: Zoran's proven JPEG codec; and a new 16-bit DSP core that Zoran recently licensed from an undisclosed source and optimized for this application.
The real-time video capturing and encoding capability of the part's on-chip JPEG engine makes Zoran's chip "ideal for both a high-quality digital still camera and for a desktop PC camera for video conferencing," said Farkash. The chip is particularly PC friendly, he said, because it is the industry's first digital still camera solution that offers a complete solution, from the hardware module to the USB PC drivers.
The camera chip's DSP core offers a platform to set image-processing parameters for the chip's JPEG module and to handle interface tasks such as USB and IrDA. The DSP core also runs an operating system, while it interprets and compiles a variety of parameters in a set of internal commands. The core is capable of running up to 80 DSP Mips, and has never been used in a Zoran product before, Farkash said. He declined to say where the DSP core came from.
Equally important is the chip's CCD signal processing block. The block performs a variety of tasks ranging from preprocessing, filtering, and automatic white balance to convert CCD raw data to YUV data.
Compared with its competitors' digital still camera solutions, which are often designed to run JPEG compression in software on a RISC core, the JPEG compression on Zoran's Coach is hardware-based. Coach also comes with comprehensive development tools, Farkash said.
Coach's fast imaging-processing feature allows mega-pixel processing at up to 15 frames per second, and motion video processing at 30 frames per second. In so-called dynamic photography mode, the chip is capable of capturing up to 18 full-resolution sequential frames in a single shot.
The range of development tools "should simplify digital camera designers' design tasks, and help them develop features they want much more intuitively," said Farkash. The chip comes with a fully functional reference design and the CoachExpress development package.
The reference design was developed in collaboration with ImageLink (Nagano, Japan), a privately held digital still camera design house. The CoachExpress development package includes a set of abstract instructions for activating the Coach chip, a tool for automatic Coach customization to the customer's camera system configuration and a utility to prepare fonts and icons for on-screen display of a camera menus.
Zoran said the Coach chip reduces power consumption by roughly 20 percent compared with competing solutions.
The chip also provides an audio port, so it can support "audio titling" of pictures. For example, it allows a camera to generate and attach a 15 second audio file to a picture. In the future, Farkash said, it may be possible to implement a full audio tape recording capability on a camera by running a low-bit-rate speech compression algorithm on the Coach chip and store the audio data on flash memory.
Zoran bundles in Coach a homegrown operating system that was specifically designed for digital still cameras. "OEMs don't need to pay extra for running the third party's operating system," Farkash said.
Samples of the Coach chip are available now, with volume production scheduled for February. It will be priced below $25 in high volume, according to Zoran.