Allwinner claims that it has shipped more chips for Android tablets globally than any other supplier over the last two years. A spokeswoman at Allwinner told EE Times, "In addition to connected tablets, our chips are today already used in Android set-top boxes, HDMI dongles, notebook computers, and advanced driver assistance systems."
The company's product lineup includes its newest UltraOcta A80 processor, which Allwinner calls "the world's first ARM big.LITTLE octa-core heterogeneous SoC design to include a 64-core PowerVR G6230 GPU." The point is that the chip's powerful multimedia features, including 4K encoding/decoding, H.265, tri-screen display, and advanced wireless screen mirroring, make it a "strong candidate for digital home devices," she added.
That said, however, such convergence between tablet ICs and set-top box SoCs doesn't necessarily make both chips portable or interchangeable.
The problem for SoC vendors catering to today's very much alive and well DTV and set-top market is that they still face a substantial fragmentation in the market. This exists in video formats, adaptive streaming protocols, software digital rights management solutions, media frameworks, web browsers, and trusted execution environments, explained Linaro's Taylor.
Linaro: ARM's secret weapon
ARM, which has led the mobile revolution with its processor IPs, now sees that its licensees in the tablet SoC market would greatly benefit, only if they could leverage software work already done in the open-source community in the digital home segment.
Missing is that very open-source community designed for the DTV/set-top crowd.
ARM, however, knows how to do this. ARM's secret weapon is Linaro. The not-for-profit organization has so far launched two separate segment-focused groups: the Linaro Enterprise Group to focus on accelerating Linux development for ARM servers, and the Linaro Networking Group in the networking space.
The Linaro Digital Home Group is expected to become the third group soon, although it's still in the process of finalization, EE Times has learned.
While insisting that Linaro has not officially announced the Linaro Digital Home Group, Taylor revealed that organizational discussions are scheduled in Macau on Wed., March 5, at the Linaro Connect event.
Linaro is not a standards group. Taylor explained, "We are implementers, and we are an engineering body. Our members are engineers, and our focus is in doing heavy, intensive coding work based on whatever standards that have been already developed." But the very idea of the open-source community is such that once the software coding is done, it can be broadly shared and leveraged by Linaro members.
As Allwinner's Lee pointed out in a statement, "Joining Linaro as a founding member of the Linaro Digital Home Group will enable Allwinner to better ensure open source support for its chips and reduce kernel fragmentation."
In addition to Allwinner, such companies as STMicroelectronics, HiSilicon, and Fujitsu are believed to have already committed to the Linaro Digital Home Group.
US cable operator Comcast is also a founding member.
According to a presentation obtained by EE Times, the group is proposing its mission as "accelerating adoption of the ARM architecture in the digital home entertainment segment." It pledges to work "collaboratively on core Linux-based software platforms and deliver media via optimized and secure video frameworks."
Goals include reducing fragmentation through reference implementation on Android and a Reference Design Kit (RDK). The group hopes to optimize media frameworks and implement standardized interfaces for greater portability -- including content decryption module interfaces to DRM systems.
Among projects the group has listed: delivering Linaro RDK to the ARM platform (IP clients and gateways); integrating RDK media framework into TrustZone in order to secure video path and DRM framework; W3C Encrypted Media Extensions (EMEs); building a generic Content Decryption Module (CDM) on ARM platforms; standardizing Media Framework on OpenMax IL; migration from Qt WebKit to Qt WebEngine; reference implementations of DLNA CVP-2; compliant client and server device implementations; and integration of DLNA HTML5 Remote User Interface.
Linaro's Taylor made it clear that Linaro's members aren't foreign to the digital home segment.
Its members "began talking with several companies about fragmentation in the set-top box and digital TV space last year," said Taylor. Further, a few members started an exploratory project on the Comcast reference design kit. The project, sponsored by Comcast, lasted from July 2013 to December 2013, and it was reportedly successful.
In parallel with this, "We began talking about the formation of a new segment-focused group within Linaro with current and potential members... We have a couple of external founding members plus some of our existing members who are committed to the formation of the Linaro Digital Home Group. We are now in the process of forming the group and finalizing who will be in the initial group of founding members."
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times