Widespread use of iPods, MP3 players, cell phones, smart phones, portable gaming consoles and navigation devices, cameras, DVD players, and mobile Internet devices presents a tremendous opportunity for automotive device manufacturers and automakers. Consumers increasingly want to plug-in and become informed, entertained, and productive while in their vehicles. This trend will require a high level of integration between vehicles, content, applications, and devices.
The vehicle must seamlessly connect to many different portable devices, play the latest digitally encoded and protected content, manage multiple different audio and video sources and outputs, connect wirelessly to online content and services, and run sophisticated local and Web-based applications. The infotainment system itself needs to incorporate all the applications of these various devices into a single integrated system.
This article explains why x86 architecturean open, "standard" PC-compatible architectureoffers the performance, flexibility, connectivity, and scalability required to meet the needs of the next-generation integrated infotainment system.
Coding and decoding of audio and video content
Most digital audio and video content is distributed in a compressed format to save disk space and network bandwidth. The content is usually compressed (or coded) at its source and then decompressed (decoded) by the digital music or video player as it's played.
There are several standard algorithms for digital coding and decoding of content including MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, WMV, and AAC. These algorithms are implemented on the recording or playing devices using either specialized encoding/decoding hardware or by using software-based decoders. The amount of compressed content, the number of different compression standards, and rapid pace of technology evolution combine to present a difficult challenge to automotive media device manufacturers. Their design engineers must develop media players that have the performance to decode and render high-quality audio and video, the flexibility to decode a large number of different formats of compressed media, and the upgradeability to support new standards as technology matures.
Automotive device manufacturers can either build closed, proprietary systems based on non-x86 architecture, or they can build open, standard systems based on x86-compatible platforms such as Intel® architecture. Proprietary devices using an embedded operating system and embedded media player software typically play a limited number of media formats and are difficult or impossible to upgrade with new codecs. This architecture might prove frustrating to many car owners who would be unable to play all of their digital content in the car.
By contrast, almost all mainstream software decoders run on x86 architecture. With an infotainment system built on x86 architecture, the driver of a car could easily use the car speakers to enjoy music from a portable music player while entertaining passengers with rear-seat video copied from a digital video recorder at home, from a portable media device, or even streamed from the Internet over a wireless data connection. As compression technologies improve, the system could easily be upgraded with the latest software codecs.
Digital rights management
Digital rights management (DRM) refers to various technologies used to control and protect access to digital data and also includes restrictions associated with digital devices. The basic mechanism for implementing DRM sees content digitally scrambled, or encrypted, using a specific encryption algorithm. Digital headers are attached to the encrypted file that contain restrictions on the type and number of devices on which the content can be played. In order to play DRM-protected content, the device must be authorized by the DRM system and must contain a compatible descrambler to decrypt the content.
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DRM is intended to benefit content creators and owners (music and movie companies) by preventing content from being freely copied and distributed. Content management also benefits device manufacturers (Apple, Sony, Microsoft) since content is tied to a specific device and therefore consumers are not able to easily switch between devices. As a result, consumers are bound to proprietary technology since content can only be played on the device for which it is downloaded, or on compatible devices.