San Jose, Calif. -- In the race to pack advanced media features into cellular phones, 3-D graphics for gaming is lagging while mobile TV is gaining. At least, that's the view from graphics chip maker ATI Technologies Inc. (Markham, Ontario), which today will announce devices in both areas.
"We have been pushing 3-D for handsets, but it will take a while longer. Meanwhile, mobile TV seems to be moving ahead faster in cell phones," said Azzedine Boubguira, director of marketing for ATI's handheld group.
ATI has helped establish some significant beachheads in the cellular world. It helped South Korean carrier SK Telecom write its "Giga" specification for using graphics on its network, and it licensed its 3-D technology to Qualcomm Inc. for use in its CDMA chip sets.
ATI estimates it has sold 100 million of its Imageon media processors for handheld devices, including design wins in some 35 cell phone models for top-tier suppliers such as Motorola Inc. The chips support a broad range of features for a diverse set of markets.
"We're seeing a lot of market segmentation in what people want," said Razid Samdjy, a marketing manager in ATI's handheld group.
At today's entry level, there is support for 1.3-Mpixel cameras and VGA video. Midtier markets want 3-Mpixel imaging and CIF video at 15 frames/second. The top of the line wants 5-Mpixel imaging, H.264 for video at 30 frames/s and 3-D graphics for games.
The latter set of features describes ATI's latest Imageon, the W238X. Its primary claim to fame is its ability to render 30,000 polygons/s at a sustained 30 frames/s. It provides that performance while supporting a number of PC-like graphics features including reflections and bit mapping.
With all its features turned on, the chip consumes less than 120 milliwatts while serving a QVGA display. It also reduces power consumption by as much as 85 percent due to the use of dedicated silicon rather than software on the host for media processing, said Samdjy.
The 130-nanometer chip has 640 kbytes of embedded SRAM. It can come with 8 or 16 Mbytes of frame buffer memory stacked inside its package.
It should come as no surprise that ATI believes handset makers should cater to today's diverse markets by teaming a single baseband with a family of pin-compatible media processors with different software loads and stacked frame buffers. The approach can improve time-to-market by eliminating the need to requalify new baseband/radio combinations with carriers--a six-month process.
Much of the sizzle in cellular these days is around mobile TV. "You will see many new form factors in handsets," Samdjy said.
But the mobile-TV wave will soon spill beyond the cell phone.
"We're targeting a whole range of devices--laptops, PDAs, portable media players and maybe even new devices people haven't conceived of yet," said Michael Schueppert, president of Modeo LLC (Houston), speaking at a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.
Throwing its hat in this already crowded ring, ATI will also announce today that it will supply a full mobile-TV solution including its own DVB-H demodulator, a third-party tuner and a full software stack. The 12 x 12-mm module will consume 100 mW on average and cost $10 in volume.
ATI's module supports multiple digital rights management schemes, including those from Microsoft and the Open Mobile Alliance. The module will be available in volume in May, although commercial deployments are not expected to ramp until next year. *