SAN FRANCISCO — As mobile devices have become the video-watching "first screen," for more consumers, the gadgets have revealed a glaring weakness: They can't reliably display HD content on their high-resolution screens without video artifacts.
Large-screen living-room HDTVs are equipped with a video post-processing IC designed to enhance images, but mobile devices come with no such processing pipelines today. They frequently produce images with motion blur and judder.
Pixelworks is the first chip vendor to address this issue. It has developed a small, hardwired mobile video display processor that sits between a mobile SoC and the mobile device's panel. The co-processor uses MIPI for input and small eDP for output.
Pixelworks' mobile video processor block diagram.
Expect other vendors (including MediaTek, Qualcomm, Imagination, and NXP Software) to join the mobile video post-processing race, but with vastly different approaches. So far, Pixelworks is the only company launching a small, standalone co-processor to do the job.
System-level power savings
Now armed with its working silicon, Pixelworks is demonstrating what it calls the world's first mobile video display processor this week at Computex 2014 in Taiwan. Richard Miller, senior vice president at Pixelworks, told us its co-processor is already attracting interest from an array of mobile system vendors. "We are sampling the co-processor to our customers shortly," and mass production is scheduled for the second half of this year.
Pixelworks' mobile video display processor, code-named Iris, is ideal for a broad spectrum of mobile screens, ranging from five-inch smartphones and phablets to tablets and 13-inch ultrabooks, Miller said. It is "highly optimized for video processing" and does an excellent job enhancing video images on mobile screens. It offers scaling, motion blur and judder removal, color management, and image enhancement.
Further, mobile devices won't suffer a power hit from adding the co-processor. Adding the chip "often leads to substantial power savings on a system level." By offloading both the CPU and GPU, the mobile video display processor can improve battery life and free up system resources. Moreover, since it can handle contrast management and LED backlight control, viewing can be optimized under any ambient lighting condition. In fact, integrating the Pixelworks chip could result in power savings of much as 44%.
With 15 years of experience in bringing HD video to large-screen high-resolution TVs produced by top OEMs, Pixelworks is no stranger to sophisticated video post-processing technologies, Miller said. "When it comes to pixel quality, our bar is already very high. We are bringing a whole new level of cinematic-quality video to mobile screens now."
Race to bring HD video to mobile screens
Naturally, Pixelworks isn't alone in paying attention to the lack of video display processing capabilities in mobile devices. MediaTek is pushing what it calls Clear Motion technology by running video display processing in its octa-cores pipeline.
Similarly, Qualcomm is promoting a video processing engine called Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) for a broad range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, set-tops, and TVs.
In January, Tony King-Smith, executive vice president for marketing at Imagination Technology, called good display processing or video post-processing "absolutely an important area" in mobile devices. "The right way to handle it [post-video processing] is in the graphics pipeline," he told EE Times.
NXP Software has been pitching the idea of "bringing the living room HDTV experience to mobile" by running the company's video sharpening software algorithms on mobile platforms. "Today's multi-core apps processors are so powerful and they are more than capable" of sharpening video and intelligent video scaling, Jeremy Thomas Davies, NXP's product and development manager of applications, told us last year.
Mobile video will generate 69% of mobile traffic by 2018.
(Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index 2014)
Few in the electronics industry question the rapid growth of mobile video over the next several years. Cisco predicted this year in its Visual Networking Index that video will handle as much as two-thirds of the world's mobile data traffic by 2018. More specifically, it said mobile video use will increase 14-fold between 2013 and 2018, accounting for 69% of mobile data traffic by 2018.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times