Electronic Design

SMGPs Hold The Key To Interactive Services

We're at the dawn of a pervasive convergence of personal interactive broadband communications across a cornucopia of platforms and delivery means. This exciting convergence creates true interactive communications for users and seamless access to a wealth of information. For example, broadband set-top boxes and Internet appliances can be used to take full advantage of interactive TV, including streaming media of many forms—video, audio, voice, graphics, text, and animation.

Until now, streaming media has been confined primarily to PCs and hasn't been a rich consumer experience. PCs suffer from boot-up and crash problems. Although multimedia elements have been added to PCs, the results haven't been sparkling.

A new kind of device is required: a streaming-media gateway processor (SMGP) that allows us to take advantage of streaming media's rich repertoire of applications, including MPEG 2/4 video, text, graphics, animation, and advanced audio functions, for greater user enjoyment and satisfaction. An SMGP also extends our reach to pervasive platforms like information appliances and convergence set-top boxes. It can simultaneously capture and process multiple streams of rich media content for any display system.

An SMGP must manage many functions, such as windowing, blending, and reformatting of video, text, and animation. In performing streaming output functions, the processor also has to manage high-speed, mixed-signal functions.

Moreover, an SMGP needs flexibility. It must work independently with various system CPUs, and with proper support from operating systems, broadband interfaces, and content-access software.

To energize the communications environment described above, the SMGP will have to take on more integration. Functional blocks likely to be integrated over time will include MPEG, bus interfaces, and the host CPU. Video blocks such as multiport video capture, alpha blending, scaling, and video and graphics overlaying are necessary. Audio processing and memory management, as well as de-interlacing, digital-to-analog conversion, and digital links, are other key components. The communications side would include PCI, IDE, Ethernet, legacy I/O, and other links.

Integration improves performance, overall system cost, and time-to-market. Today, for example, an Internet appliance might include a CPU, 10 Mbytes of memory for data and packet management, system logic, a super I/O, audio and modem codecs, modems for IDE, USB and 1394, other components, and, of course, an SMGP—for a cost of $105.

Then about six months down the line, the appliance could be integrated to include just the CPU, 8 Mbytes of memory, LPC logic, audio/modem codecs, a "universal" modem, other miscellaneous components, and an SMGP for just $85. Six months later, integrating the SMGP would reduce the appliance to only 8 Mbytes of memory, LPC I/O, audio modem codecs, and a few other discrete components, and lower the cost to $70. Notice that time-to-market speeds up as integration and costs improve.

Also key to speeding up time-to-market, and enabling flexibility of content access, is the provision of software along with the SMGP. This includes a development tools and complete reference design platform.

The SMGP bridges the cost, performance, and market gap among content, transmission pipelines, interfaces, and displays. Factors influencing the success of the SMGP include a large and rapidly growing market, trendsetting customers, software and hardware strategic alliances, technology leadership, and an experienced technical and business team.

TAGS: Components
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