Have you priced a Sony Playstation 2 lately? Despite the tough economic climate, the biggest movers in the stores this holiday season are DVD players and computer games. This Focus section looks at technology responsible for the startling realism in new set-top boxes, DVDs and PC audio players.
"The DVD player has become the fastest-selling consumer electronics product of all time," says contributor Alson Kemp, senior field applications engineer at Cirrus Logic, Inc. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates 3 million DVD units will have been sold this holiday season.
Kemp notes that the "dramatic price decrease in VLSI silicon has created room for innovation, allowing for cost-effective chips that contain the large, complicated functional blocks required for DVD playback." Meanwhile, Analog Devicesengineers have been hard at work designing SoundMAX digital audio decode chips. Now a de facto standard on Intel-sanctioned PC motherboards, the chips are responsible for the sound-effects firmware that adds realism to PC games.
Denis Labrecque, director of marketing in the companys Audio Rendering Technology Center (Mountain View, Calif.), points out that while there have been major improvements in visual realism in games there is a noticeable lag in the audio effects. Labrecque believes designer tools such as the companys SoundMAX,which models sounds as algorithmic audio blocks in memory and then assembles them on the fly to create a realistic sound field, will be a valuable addition for building game platforms.
Meanwhile, engineers at QuickSilver Technology, Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) are figuring out how to deal with the Mips that come with the latest MPEG standards. "MPEG-4especially advanced audio coding, whose sampling frequencies can go up 96 kHz for up to 48 channelsrequires about 30 Mips," write Paul Master, technology VP, and Fu-Huei Lin, senior member of the technical staff.
But even those 30 Mips can overwhelm a portable processor and turn it into a power hog, if it is not optimized to run through 2,048 coefficients of a modified discrete cosine transform. The QuickSilver article holds portents of a good deal of next years product developments, as PDA and cell phone makers try to cram more features onto their handhelds without totally trashing the battery life.
Meanwhile, engineers at Philips Semiconductors (San Jose) are assessing the effect of the recording capability on set-top-boxes where the design challenge lies in still uncertain services for the home media center of the future. Mark Samuel, marketing director for set-top boxes, emphasizes the importance of a hardware/software balance and more up-front planning.