Electronic Design

Universal Broadcast TV Is Heading For A Notebook Near You

People who watch broadcast TV on notebook computers typically do so via a USB stick or PC Card connected to an external antenna. Reception usually consists of a TV standard or two, such as ATSC. If this sounds cumbersome and limiting, it is. But this will change if a company called CrestaTech succeeds in convincing notebook manufacturers to include its mobile TV solution right on the motherboard.

CrestaTech has created a combination of silicon and software called CrestaTV. It comprises the CTC-200 programmable RF IC and CTC-201 USB or PCI Express (PCIe) interface IC (Fig. 1) along with multi-threaded signal processing software algorithms for the tuner, demodulator, and decoder, all optimized for multicore CPUs (Fig. 2).

With CrestaTV, notebooks and the newer netbooks can receive live analog or digital TV broadcasts as well as radio and GPS signals, regardless of geographic location. By including GPS, the system can quickly bring up the local channel guide and is useful for additional applications. The overall solution is region-free and works with any analog or digital terrestrial or cable TV signal as well as any radio broadcast.

CrestaTech’s vision doesn’t stop there. Its CrestaWare software enables fast channel scan, enhanced reception, and TV and radio tower geolocation. Additionally, it includes applets for Facebook, MySpace, Google Maps, and more. The company’s aim is to turn the laptop into a mobile media center, where consumers can experience the ubiquity of the Internet with broadcast television. But it also wants to further transform the notebook experience by adding social networking, where users can enjoy “friends and family style” TV watching and share personal content with anyone on the Web who also has live TV capability.

According to Ramon Cazares, VP of marketing and sales at CrestaTech, the company is looking to combine the broadcast, PC, and Internet in a more elegant fashion for the notebook experience. “Our idea is to bring the television, radio, and GPS into your notebook but also provide the tools to seamlessly integrate, for example, your television within Facebook or MySpace or to use Google maps with your GPS. We think this is all quite possible by providing a very cost-effective solution that can be integrated into the notebook.”

Cazares described embedding the TV player into a sports social networking site where sports fanatics could watch TV within the site and communicate with each other during the broadcast, much like families used to do years ago. CrestaTech provides technologies that let users embed a live TV window within a browser and into social networking applications.

For system manufacturers, CrestaTV is a cost-effective, simple silicon solution that supports all major standards via a programmable analog IC and software-based signal processing. Manufacturers can then standardize on a system design regardless of the geographic region, which ultimately streamlines the design and deployment process, reducing overall system costs.

The chipset dissipates just 500 mW under maximum load and supports frequencies of 42 to 864 MHz and L1 band. The hardware/ software solution dynamically balances quality, speed, and power dissipation based on the environment and processing resources available. CrestaTech programmable broadband is a unique implementation of OFDM, QAM, and 8VSB modulation techniques. The analog RF IC is fully programmable across the broadest frequency range found in commercial radios. It currently supports ATSC, QAM, DVBT, NTSC, PAL, and DAB, and it will be able to support any standards that come along via software upgrades.

The software is designed to run on the notebook’s host processor. But it is also designed to be independent of platform, such as x86, ARM, or MIPS, as well as graphics processors (GPUs) from Nvidia and other companies. Most of these platforms have special instructions for media acceleration.

From CrestaTech’s perspective, these processors behave like a large DSP, so the company has written its software to take advantage of that. Since CrestaTech utilizes the resources of the host platform, a Viterbi equalization filter, for example, isn’t limited by memory size on a silicon chip. CrestaTech believes it can achieve better performance utilizing this method than a dedicated system-ona- chip (SoC) could performing the same function.

CrestaTV will be available for evaluation in the second quarter and is expected to be priced well under $10. An enhanced option is also available. CrestaTech has devised a way to use two receivers, loop one back onto the other (Fig. 3), combine the two streams into one, and send one optimized stream to the host processor for demodulation. According to the company, there is no significant increase on CPU load to realize a 3- to 4-dB increase in reception quality. This is especially helpful when targeting on-the-go rather than stationary TV reception. CrestateCh

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