Along with the many digital video processing chips available to designers, intellectual- property (IP) options are available for those who need to design their own chips to meet highly customized requirements. These options include RTL cores for system-on-a-chip (SoC) design as well as soft IP for FPGA-based development. IP providers typically offer substantial software support, too.
Hardware video-codec IP is available from companies such as On2 Technologies. The company’s Hantro 8190 design can handle the H.264 high-profile, 1080p format along with Adobe Flash, MPEG-2, and a variety of other video formats. Available in RTL, the design targets integration with ARM, MIPS, and other CPU cores.
Soft IP for video processing, including codecs, scaling, and image enhancement, is available through FPGA vendors like Altera. The FPGA design approach is particularly useful for applications that require both top performance and design flexibility, e.g., studio transcoding equipment and video servers.
“Studio equipment design is embracing programmable logic because of the proliferation of codecs,” says Brian Jentz, Altera’s marketing manager for broadcast. “Digital video cameras work in a variety of formats, including AVC-I, MPEG-2, JPEG 2000, and so on, and archived sources may use additional format types. The equipment has to be able to work with what is out there.” Jentz notes that studios also needed to work with higher precision than consumer devices.
On another front, there’s blended programmable and hardware IP for specific video-processing needs, such as the Video Enhancement Engine (VEE) technology from QuickLogic. VEE improves image viewability in handheld designs by re-mapping the data to match lighting conditions, reducing the amount of backlighting needed. The IP is configurable to meet specific customer design requirements, but delivered already programmed into the device.
When evaluating digital video processing IP, developers should be clear on what they want from the codec beyond basic decompression. Video-conferencing applications, for instance, need low latency to be effective. Consumer devices, on the other hand, have a greater need for high image quality.
Developers needn’t be video experts, as the IP vendor provides integration and application software development support. But they do have to understand how key system components affect video quality, power consumption, and other critical parameters of their application.