TOKYO Anticipating a big demand for MPEG-2 encoders triggered by the advent of digital video recording, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) is vying with Matsushita and Sony for a foothold in the market.
NTT and its IC-manufacturing subsidiary, NTT Electronics Corp. (NEL), have developed a one-chip MPEG-2 encoder with a range of compression capabilities for video networking, DVD authoring and broadcast applications. NEL showed the device at the Telecom '98 conference this week in Anaheim, Calif. Samples are available.
The SuperENC architecture is scalable. When used alone, it compresses such MPEG formats as SP@ML, MP@ML and 4:2:2p@ML. When priority is placed on low latency, it compresses in 0.2 millisecond. When eight of the chips are linked together, it encodes MP@HL HDTV video data.
Thus, the encoder serves a wide range of applications, NTT said, including surveillance systems using SP@ML compression, videoconferencing systems taking advantage of low latency, DVD recorders with MP@ML and professional and broadcast apps using 4:2:2p@ML and MP@HL.
The device features one-pass variable-bit-rate encoding and outputs data in 2-kbyte video-packet form the basic data format for DVD recording. Systems conventionally use an external CPU to handle these jobs. "The load on the CPU will be greatly lessened," said Norio Miyahara, deputy executive director of sales and marketing at NEL. "And the features are an advantage for DVD-rewritable systems."
Companies like Matsushita, Sony and NEC showed prototype MPEG-2 encoders for consumer products at the Japan Electronics Show earlier this month. Some have already introduced devices to the market.
Despite this formidable competition, "we are aiming at about a 20 percent share in the encoder market for DVD-rewritable products," said Miyahara. "We are going to offer the device at a competitive price. Picture quality is the differentiating point of our encoder." NTT made an early start in MPEG-2 encoder boards in 1996. Its boards sell for around $11,800, and "we have sold more than 100 boards this year," said Miyahara.
NTT said it improved the algorithm that had been used for the chips on the board and developed two motion-detection technologies for the new encoder: Look Neighbor First Search, which uses wide-range detection and neighboring-area detection, depending on how large the motion is; and Area Hopping, which estimates the vector of a whole frame and adjusts a search area along the vector. This enables accurate detection of a quick move.
SuperENC's detection unit combines the two technologies. The motion-estimation search range is 211.5 pixels horizontally and 113.5 pixels vertically. The detection unit spots a move in a minimum range, a technique the company said contributes to low power consumption. Conversely, if power consumption is kept at the same level as in conventional encoders, large volumes of data can be processed for higher resolution, said Miyahara.
The encoder consists of 5.8 million transistors, including memory, and is fabricated on a 0.25-micron CMOS process. It comes in a 208-pin plastic quad flat package. Using a 3.3-V power supply, the IC operates at 2.5 V internally, drawing less than 1.5 W. NTT said the part is the smallest and has the lowest power consumption of an encoder that's scalable to HDTV compression. For that application, eight chips must be ganged, and data can be transferred among them without using external buffer memories.
NEL plans to offer three varieties of the encoder. The standard type, sampling now at $285, compresses data based on MP@ML and SP@ML criteria. The other two are for 4:2:2p and MP@HL compression. "Polishing up and verifying the firmware, we will ship the remaining two models next June," said Miyahara.