LAS VEGAS, Nev. In response to a growing demand among consumer-electronics manufacturers for digital-audio receivers to run several decoding algorithms, Zoran Corp. is unveiling a digital-audio processor, ZR38650, at the Consumer Electronics Show to be held here this week.
Although it's based on the company's three generations of digital-audio-processor architecture, Paul Goldberg, vice president of audio products, said, "We designed this new audio processor as the first true multi-format decoder."
Featuring a faster processing speed and larger on-chip memories, the processor is designed to process numerous complex digital-audio compression schemes besides Dolby Digital, including Digital Theater Systems (DTS), MPEG-2 Multichannel, MP3, MPEG-2 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) and Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP).
According to Zoran, the demand is growing for a multi-format digital-audio processor for high-end audio receivers, DVD players and a variety of entertainment systems with a broad range of audio/video quality features. "From a boom box to a regular CD/DVD player, to a high-end DVD-Audio player, your chip coming out in 1999 needs to address the entire spectrum of various audio-decoding requirements," said Goldberg.
For the audiophile market, DVD-Audio, whose spec is finally coming together, is expected to present new challenges to a lot of system and chip vendors in 1999. MLP, for example, has been chosen as a lossless packing technology required for DVD Audio.
Meanwhile, MPEG-2 AAC, which has been chosen as the audio requirement for satellite-based Japanese Digital TV service, is now seen as a low-bit-rate audio algorithm ideal for delivery of downloadable CD-quality music over the Internet, satellite or cable. And MP3-a virtual de facto audio-compression algorithm used on the Internet to download music today-continues to exist, despite the latest efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to set an audio standard for secure digital music sent over the Internet.
As the distribution of music over the Internet becomes more popular, the importance of a multi-format decoder could become even more relevant. Especially in the future, when consumer-electronics-system vendors start thinking about building such a new standalone consumer device as "Internet Radio," the ability of that system to decode multiple audio algorithms should become a must, the Goldberg predicted.
Today, such algorithms as MP3, AAC and MLP are still in development at Zoran. The DTS is in the process of final approval, Goldberg said.
The ZR38650 has such expanded on-chip memories as 2 kword program/data RAM, 10 kword data RAM and 20 kword program/data ROM. The larger on-chip program RAM, for example, is used to store Dolby Digital, Dolby Prologic and MPEG-2 Multichannel audio, as well as a base management algorithm.
Further, by featuring a full 32-bit external bus to connect to SRAM, the new digital-audio processor can directly access off-chip program/data memories. The external memory becomes essential "if users want to run very large programs such as DTS, MLP and AAC," said Goldberg. "As the price of SRAM is going down, it's becoming very feasible."
The ZR38650, running at 100 MHz, has 50 Mips DSP processing power. The company's previous digital-audio processor, ZR38600 offered 40 Mips processing power, running at 80 MHz. "The 10 extra Mips can now allow us to process a number of different virtual-surround-sound schemes as well," said Goldberg.
The chip, manufactured by using a 0.31-micron process technology, is available today. The chip will be priced "less than $12" for customers wanting it for large-volume quantity, said Goldberg.