HANNOVER, Germany Consumer electronics companies want to leverage the trend toward adding value to consumer electronics through software to create a Linux-based "living room operating system."
At this week's CeBIT show here, Philips unveiled several reference designs for media players and other consumer electronics device platforms. The reference designs have one thing in common: They all use Philips' own Nexperia media processor. However, the company does not want to push its own processor, but rather wants to provide a unified platform for the industry. The new reference designs are hardware-independent, said Paul de Bot, vice president of business development at Philips Semiconductor.
The lion's share of future consumer electronics' technical development will be software related. "The amount of available software triples every three years. That means that the software section can keep up with Moore's Law easily," de Bot said.
The biggest problem is the extremely fragmented market. "Sharing software and building up a common software platform is important," de Bot added. Therefore, Philips will provide software platforms for home electronics in close corporation with other companies.
For example, Philips contributes to the Digital Home Working Group, together with Samsung, Nokia, Intel, Microsoft and other industry leaders. In February, Philips and Samsung presented the Universal Home Application Program Interface (UHAPI), a set of joint application interfaces developed by both companies.
The interfaces are hardware-independent, and can be implemented in most processor platforms, said de Bot. Furthermore, the set of interfaces does not require a certain operating system. He is confident that Linux will play a key role in the future consumer electronics products.
"Linux is the preferred operating system for digital consumer electronics," de Bot said. "We need to create a community to bring the coders together. In this field, Linux is the Lingua Franca, there's no doubt about it. PC coders who work with Linux will be able to transfer their software to this platform easily."
Furthermore, some consumers expect more from their equipment than the average PC can provide. "We need a quick booting operating system for the living room that is more rugged, needs less memory and delivers improved, real-time performance compared to today's PC operating systems," the Philips manager said.
What kind of applications will run on future systems? "It's not about applications," said de Bot. "It's about ease of use what we need is a common, intuitive user interface." Then, applications will have to be adapted to the living room.
Another issue is the specification of the supported data formats. "This industry does not have a lack of standards, that's not the point. The problem is that there are so many standards," de Bot said. Hence, he said it is critical to maintain open standards like MP3, AAC and MPEG.
According to de Bot, future of audio and video data formats will diverge from today's predominant recording methods that compress a series of samples in the time domain. "The future will bring parametric methods that [simplify] audio or video signals to their basic elements . . . and reassemble them when saving or transmitting the data. That means that you can achieve high-quality signals while using an extremely low bit rate."
The new H.264 codec (also known as MPEG-4 AVC) is an example of the technique.
--Christoph Hammerschmidt is editor-in-chief of EETimes.de.