Electronic Design

TIDC 2008

The 2008 Texas Instrument Developers Conference (TIDC) seemed to be a bellwether for the upcoming Embedded Systems Conference. The tone was upbeat but without the excitement of prior years where hype was high and reality was low. New technologies were being highlighted. Now those technologies have moved into the mainstream. The advantages from the show were the concrete nature of the announcements and products at the show. There was less tire kicking and more demands on what can be delivered today.

Some interesting fanfare came from one of the prize-winning end-user product, the Slacker’s Portable Player (Fig. 1). Other useful tools like BSquare's DevKit OMAP35x made a splash as well.

Texas Instrument’s announcements included the new OMAP35x line fueled the buzz at the show. The media and partners were well prepped, so there was plenty of support on display at the show.

As usual, the major thrust of the show were DSPs, including the OMAP line. TI showcased other product lines like the MSP430 and there were plenty of technical sessions covering them, but high performance video and audio were definitely highlighted.

Texas Toys
The keynotes and follow-up highlighted products like Slacker’s Portable Player. This “personalized radio” is based on an OMAP processor although not the latest. It was simply not available when Slacker needed it but you can put money on the latest OMAP processor finding its way into future versions of the product.

The Portable Player incorporates a Wi-Fi link and software designed to synch its contents with streaming radio stations on the Internet. You can listen to those using a PC, but the player lets you disconnect from the Internet while taking the multimedia content with you.

The system is centered around stations that have a particular type of content. Move into range of a Wi-Fi link and the latest content can be automatically downloaded. The different versions of the player are rated in terms of stations instead of storage capacity. 15, 25, and 40 station-versions are available.

The large front panel display provides an effective platform for the menu driven interface. It can also display high resolution images. If I get my hands on one of these I will give you a better review of its operation.

Texas Hardware
I have a separate write up on the new OMAP35x line in a forthcoming print edition of Electronic Design but I’ll drop a few tidbits here. The line is based on ARM’s Cortex-A8 that will run rings around an ARM9. It can run at speeds up to 600 MHz.

Only the single core version is available at this point. There are three more versions in the family at this point. They will be available later in the year. The top-end adds a TI DSP familiar to those using the prior versions of OMAP.

The big news is the new OMAP that will be available as a general product instead of being targeted at specific customers such as cell-phone manufacturers. Vendors I talked with at the show who had an inside track were very excited. Personally I think these chips are going to really bust open the video market.

There were plenty of other chunks of hardware floating around at the show. That’s not surprising given TI’s product breadth.

One area that stood out was obviously high-end DSPs and the use of Serial RapidIO (SRIO). Several vendors are starting to jump on the SRIO bandwagon, adding the technology onto their processor chips. Still, TI has the lead—and of course, boards on display from companies like Mercury Computers incorporate TI chips.

I was able to chat with companies such as IDT and Tundra, two suppliers of SRIO switch chips. The uptake on SRIO in the communications industry has been phenomenal. Version 2 is still in the wings but some are starting to need its higher performance requirements. Still, the existing standard and products are being heavily used and meet the requirements of the majority of developers. What is getting interesting is the size of the systems being developed, but I’ll have more on that some other time.

Tundra was talking about its ‘baseband-in-a-box’ solution that is actually a system made up of third-party products like CommAgility AMC-6487C Baseband Advanced Mezzanine Card, which includes Texas Instruments TCI6487 multicore DSPs (Fig. 2), Mercury Ensemble MSW-100 RapidIO MicroTCA Switch Module, Tundra’s Tsi574 Serial RapidIO Signal Analyzer, and Fabric Embedded Tools RapidFET Probe. Of course, Tundra’s Tsi578 SRIO switch was on many of the boards.

SRIO is making inroads into a range of applications outside of the communications industry as well because of its mesh architecture, low latency, and high bandwidth. Look out for even more of this to occur as MicroTCA starts to mature this year.

Video hardware, including network cameras, were out in force at the show. Xilinx was showing off its DSP Video Starter Kit (Fig. 3). It uses a Spartan-3A DSP FPGA. I’ll have more on this kit when it arrives here in the lab. The demos were showing some interesting video manipulations but barely touching the capacity of the FPGA or the possible functionality of the system. Of course, just getting it to the show on time was the first step so I expect to see some very interesting things from the platform in the future.

Texas Software
Video was hot on the software side as well. Cernium, a company with video analytics expertise, was showing off products like Cernium Edge. Cernium Edge is a P-Core analytics engine that targets DSPs. Not surprising for TIDC. Cernium was showing demos that highlighted a range of analysis that can now be moved to the camera, including object tracking.

Linux was floating all around. MPC Data was showing off the latest Linux kernel running on the DaVinci DM355. MPC Data is a Monta Vista partner but they are pushing the envelope for those that need the latest and greatest.

Other software announcements were centered around support for the OMAP35x as well as other TI DSPs. Green Hills Software is delivering its Multi IDE and Integrity RTOS for TI’s new offerings. Green Hills is one of the few companies that can deliver ARM/DSP support for TI’s chips. Only a couple years ago, the only alternative was TI’s Code Composer. Green Hills adds features like its DoubleCheck integrated static source code analyzer. Support is also included for Green Hill’s high-speed JTAG hardware probes that support the TimeMachine trace debugger.

BSquare was showing off an OMAP35x development platform (Fig. 4) at the show. It tends to be more complete with a large LCD display and expansion options such as cellular header. The SDIO expansion slot can be used to add 802.11b/g support. The platform supports Windows Embedded CE 6.0 and Linux.

Texas Backroom
TI’s backroom discussion centered on software. The real-time software components (RTSC) is currently a proposal under the Eclipse ecosystem. Like Eclipse itself, RTSC is based in a big company’s internal project. In this case, TI is moving tools it built to support its DSP infrastructure into the open-source community. This approach has the advantage of creating a project that will build on well-established components. Much of the work will be tuning things for Eclipse.

Actually, most of this work is already done since TI is another company that has been moving to Eclipse. Its MSP430 offering is already based on Eclipse, and its high-end Code Composer Studio is moving in that direction.

I have not had a chance to get into the details of RTSC (pronounced “ritzy”) but you can find the whole thing online in all its gory details. It is based on TI’s DSP/BIOS real-time operating system (RTOS) and the codec engine multi-media middleware.

Essentially, RTSC brings Java-like package management to C/C++. It targets the Eclipse CDT (C/C++ Development Tool) and it’s applicable to embedded C/C++ application development. It works especially well with whole program-optimizing compiler systems that allow optimized code generation when using separately compiled modules.

The idea was to bring a more generic package management system to C/C++. There have been a host of others that are OS- or vendor-specific so it will be interesting to see if this effort succeeds in rallying the troops around a common platform. It has worked well with Eclipse in general so why not here.

RTSC is actually a combination of package standards and tools that address the entire software development cycle. Installation support addresses package selection, compatibility checks, and side-by-side installation of packages. Development support addresses component configuration and assembly as well as documentation support. For debugging, the system exposes component-specific views of internal data structures and handles component compatibility checking. There are even deployment, logging, and diagnostic tools within the system.

RTSC is a major change for TI and its impact could be as large as Eclipse in the embedded community. I’ll have more on RTSC in the future once I get a better handle on it myself. TI has seven years to get its head around the system, so I hope you don’t mind if I take a little time to figure out where it is headed. At least everyone will be able to watch while it happens, or better yet, take advantage and participate in its use and expansion.

Related Links
BSquare
www.bsquare.com

Cernium
www.cernium.com

Eclipse (RTSC)
www.eclipse.org/proposals/rtsc/

Green Hills Software
www.ghs.com

IDT
www.idt.com

Mercury Computers
www.mc.com

MPC Data
www.mpc-data.co.uk

Slacker
www.slacker.com

Texas Instruments
www.ti.com

Tundra
www.tundra.com

Xilinx
www.xilinx.com

TAGS: Components
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