From digital televisions to portable electronics, the H.264/AVC next-generation video compression standard is becoming mainstream. And major processor makers--mainly Japan-based firms--are facilitating that trend with chips that not only provide higher integration at lower cost and power, but aim to resolve encoding complexities and coding control challenges facing design engineers.
With the ability to achieve more than twice the compression ratio of the existing MPEG-2 standard, H.264/AVC is indeed a major advance in bringing better-quality video to electronics. The processor market is preparing to supply full-production SoCs that support the H.264/AVC standard. Though they may offer different functions and features, they all promise to deliver one thing: crisper video.
Japan-based Fujitsu, NEC Electronics, Renesas Technology and Sigma Designs are going strong in this sector, as are major U.S. chip companies, such as Broadcom, that are also looking to bring advanced functionality and differentiated features to digital TV designs.
In an effort to help OEMs quickly develop full-HD digital televisions with H.264/AVC compatibility at low cost, NEC has developed the EMMA3TL image processing SoC with a built-in analog A/V switch (for switching analog input signals when multiple devices are connected), high-speed video A/D converter, audio A/D converter, analog audio stereo decoder, HDMI receiver, audio D/A converter, USB host controller and an Ethernet controller.
The chip is the successor to NEC's EMMA2TH/H's image-processing circuit. In addition to integrating many of its predecessor's external I/O functions into its latest device, NEC also improved the image-processing circuit, enabling it to display high-resolution video as well as PC content. The color representation was upgraded from the conventional YUV 4:2:2 format to the YUV 4:4:4 format, doubling the accuracy of its color space, and enabling crisp image quality without smudging or blurring.
The performance of the deinterlacer and noise-reduction circuit was also improved. For analog video input, the technology NEC developed in the existing µPD64017 3D Y/C separation chip was enhanced, and the EMMA3TL now boasts an even higher-quality analog video decoder, supporting PAL, SECAM and NTSC.
The EMMA3TL uses a high-performance dual-core MIPS CPU capable of 1,000 DMIPS (Dhrystone MIPS), making it possible to implement networks and other apps with heavy processing loads.
Also focused on bringing H.264/AVC capability to HD IPTVs, as well as IPTV set-top boxes (STBs), IP-cable STBs, and Blu-ray players, is Sigma Designs, which just started to sample a high-performance processor with increased CPU performance and expanded interface capability. The SMP8644 is expected to be in production by this December.
The SMP8644 offers a full complement of advanced decoder engines with HD video decoding, including H.264 (MPEG-4 part 10), Windows Media Video 9, VC-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (part 2) and the AVS standard. High-performance graphics acceleration, multistandard audio decoding with three on-chip DSP engines, advanced display processing capabilities and HDMI 1.3 output round out its multimedia core.
Powerful content security is ensured through a dedicated secure processor, on-chip flash memory and a range of digital rights management engines for high-speed payload decryption. The SMP8644 also features a full complement of system peripherals, including a dual Ethernet controller, dual USB 2.0 controller, NAND and NOR flash controllers, IR controller and dual SATA controller.
Beyond its on-chip media processing core, the SMP8644 supports a number of optional capabilities. Using a direct interface, the addition of a VXP Image Processor such as the VXP9452 enables studio-quality video output. VXP technology uses the most advanced image-processing algorithms available--such as professional-grade deinterlacing, scaling, and a host of noise-reduction and image-enhancement algorithms--to deliver crisp, natural-looking, artifact-free images on displays of virtually any size. Adding support for IEEE1394 only requires the direct connection of a 1394 transceiver chip to the transport stream interface for a complete solution.