AMSTERDAM, Netherlands Texas Instruments, which leveraged its DSP technology to become the dominant player in voice and mobile telephony, is aiming to do the same in the digital video market with the launch of a new DSP-enabled video platform called DaVinci.
According to Richard Templeton, TI’s president and CEO, "Just like voice was important in the last 25 years, in ten year’s time we will look back at video as being the next most important stage."
DaVinci will be based on the TMS320C6000, TI’s newest C64x+ DSP core. The DaVinci processors consist of DSP-based system-on-chip, integrating DSP and ARM cores, accelerators, peripherals and necessary software, the Dallas-based company said.
Significantly, DaVinci will not rely solely on the programmable DSP core. Instead, it will incorporate hardware acceleration of computing-intensive functions when performance or power requirements dictate it and the stability of the underlying algorithms permitting. This will permit DaVinci, in TI's view, to cover the enormous range of performance and power combinations in a market that stretches from ultra-compact digital cameras and video handsets to broadcast encoders and scientific image processing systems.
Billing DaVinci as the next-generation digital video engine, Gene Frantz, TI’s principal fellow, pitched DaVinci as a veritable Renaissance for myriad digital consumer products, from IP set-tops, digital TV, video telephony and security to digital still camera and portable video. “Every new business opportunity has something to do with video imaging,” he said.
MIPS in the mix
TI disclosed here Thursday (Sept. 8) that DaVinci could use processor blocks other than ARM. When asked if MIPS is included in the mix, TI's Frantz said, "Yes, it is, if that's what the customer wants. They are both IPs in our bank."
ARM, however, appears to be a preferred processor for DaVinci. Frantz said, "We are going to start where our customer base is, and that [ARM] tends to be what they are asking for."
It remains unclear how TI will maintain the integrity of the DaVinci software development environment if, for instance, one DaVinci SoC uses ARM and another uses MIPS. Frantz, however, said, “f we do our job right, the engine under
the hood won't change the car that much."
On the question of availability, Frantz said processors, software and development tools will sample by the end of this year. "And we have a
host of people already developing DaVinci-based products."
Indeed, TI is marshalling all it resources to promote DaVinci, including its established position in the DSP arena, its experience in advanced SoC development and its vast array of industry relationships. Despite its intention to address a broad swath of the digital video market with the new platform, its success is hardly a forgone conclusion.
Variables include the specific market segments TI plans to enter, how big and fast the market will grow and whether TI can attract third-party software vendors with enough breadth to cover each digital video system. Most important, TI needs a powerful customer Nokia was an early backer of TI’s OMAP platform for cellphones to help make DaVinci indispensable in the digital video market.
Platform approach, again
TI is not the first chip maker staking its future on a “platform-based” approach to digital video. Philips Semiconductors is promoting its Nexperia platform based on its TriMedia DSP and MIPS core. Similarly, STMicroelectronics is pursuing a reusable architecture. Its current STB7100 family of chips for digital video products includes the ST40, STs’ 32-bit RISC family based on the SuperH architecture, a VLIW core, hardware accelerators and a litany of software.
Nor is this TI’s first crack at the digital video market.
“TI entered the set-top box market twice before and then, both times, withdrew when the business was not as good as they thought,” said Chris Carter, managing director at the Digital TV Consultancy (Windsor, England). “Customers are going to want to have confidence that TI is going to be successful before they make a commitment.”
Many in the industry believe TI is destined to face a range of new challenges in its efforts to crack the digital video market.
The biggest difference between the digital video and mobile phone markets is that video is much more fragmented, said Bob Krysiak, marketing director of ST’s Home, Personal, Communications Division. Digital video platforms demand “a different implementation for each operator, each geographical market and each service and application.” He added, “It requires a huge amount of work” to customize both hardware and software.