ANAHEIM, Calif. Equator Technologies this week will take the wraps off a device that it calls a "software television." Fully programmable in C, the MAP1000 media processor-scheduled to roll out at the Western Show, here-formats digital video and graphics for display on high-resolution monitors. It also provides NTSC image enhancement and MPEG-4 decoding, and anticipates advanced video services such as videoconferencing and interactive gaming.
The reprogrammable device is meant to replace the hardwired MPEG and 3-D graphics engines currently used to format and display digital television. "The TV guys are terrified of the six-month product cycles the PC guys live with," said John O'Donnell, an Equator founder and chief technology officer at the Seattle-based company. The MAP1000, he believes, will replace "hardwired" TVs and help console makers extract value from their sets. It will also support set-top-box add-on services for digital television.
The MAP1000 is built on a very long instruction word (VLIW) architecture optimized for image and video processing. It includes extensive support for partitioned SIMD (single-instruction, multiple-data) operations. A VLx coprocessor handles "serial" computations like Huffman encoding and decoding (used in video and data-storage compression). Also on board are a real-time video scaler, an NTSC TV or RGB computer-screen display controller, a 230-MHz RAMDAC, a video Transport Channel Interface and an AC-Link for AC97-compliant audio codecs.
The device will do up to 20 billion pixel-formatting operations per second, according to the company. It is also said to
be capable of producing 3.2 billion 16-bit multiply-accumulate operations (MACs) per second, qualifying it as the world's most powerful digital signal processor.
But the MAC1000, designed with financial backing from Hitachi Ltd., is entering the increasingly crowded and perilous market for media processors. "This is a market that doesn't really take off until 2003," said DSP industry analyst Will Strauss of Forward Concepts.
Already, Chromatic Research-recently sold to ATI Technologies-is considered a casualty of this market, and Philips' TriMedia group is still struggling for customer support. Like the Equator Technologies part, the products of both Chromatic and Philips are based on VLIW architectures. Other chip makers thought to be developing products for DTV formatting and reception include Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Lucent Technologies (in partnership with Mitsubishi) and the Japanese research facility of Texas Instruments.
Equator believes it has a leg up on the competition. Besides the financial backing from Hitachi, said marketing director Ted Niday, the Equator team invented VLIW processing at Multiflow Computer 15 years ago and learned some lessons about scalability in the process. Indeed, Multiflow's Tracing Scheduling Compiler, a parallelizing compiler that finds instructions that can be executed out of sequence, became the foundation of Equator's technology.
The MAC1000 is one of the first "compiler-driven" pro-cessor designs-one that can run at full efficiency with programs generated in C rather than assembly. "Our processor is scalable," said Niday, "and we can run any known OS or RTOS. This knocks system costs down significantly.
"VLIW does work," he insisted, "but you cannot program in assembly without massive effort, as most graduate textbooks state very accurately."
In its first incarnation, the MAP1000 will use 0.25-micron technology, a 200-MHz clock and run on a 2.5-V supply. It will crank out 3.2 billion 16-bit MACs and 1.6 billion floating-point operations/s. By way of comparison, the fastest general-purpose DSP-the Analog Devices' TigerSharc, announced at the Microprocessor Forum in October-is rated at 2 billion 16-bit MACs.