1104 Lab Bench Fig 1b Samsung C7000

Home Video Conferencing Needs Smarter HDTVs

Oct. 20, 2010
Distributed computing looks like the answer for adding services like video conferencing to HDTVs.

dHDTVs are bringing more than just high definition into your living room. High-speed connectivity, hi-def cameras, and distributed computing are making HDTVs smarter and more functional than their earlier counterparts.

Cable and fiber have been delivering television shows on a regular basis for some time now, but even this is changing with the advent of Google TV, Apple TV, and Intel’s SmartTV initiative. Of course, they aren’t the first boxes to bring content via the Internet. NetFlix’s Roku (see “Roku Netflix Player”) and Vudu (see “Vudu: Movies On Demand”) have been streaming movies for years.

These boxes are little more than a processing platform with a remote control input, an HDMI output, and a network connection. Putting one inside an HDTV is no longer an engineering hurdle, as the latest horde of 3D-enabled and Internet-enabled HDTVs attest to. Platforms like Samsung’s C7000 HDTV can stream content directly from the Internet through a variety of services.

Distributing HDTV Computing
The Skype Freetalk TV Camera also can plug right into Samsung’s C7000 HDTV (see the figure). It provides video conferencing that’s significantly better than that found on most laptops and on par with many commercial systems designed specifically for video conferencing.

The Freetalk Camera boasts an array of four microphones and a high-resolution video camera connected to Maxim’s MAX64180 multicore processor, which encodes the video input into two output streams. One is normally directed to the HDTV’s screen while the other is sent via Skype to the other end of the video call.

This approach delivers compressed video via USB to the host processor, which would otherwise be overwhelmed with the data, in the Samsung HDTV. It can simply forward the audio and video information to the other end and display the camera video on screen, leaving plenty of processing power for other chores.

The MAX64180’s dual RISC DSP cores handle the H.264 and MJPEG codecs in addition to electronic pan, tilt, and zoom, while the ARM9 core handles communication. The architecture also lets the chip handle audio chores like beam forming, noise cancellation, and echo cancellation.

Even with a greater number of bigger network pipes, efficient codecs remain critical to multimedia streaming. Fraunhofer, originator of the ubiquitous MP3 format, continues to work on codec technology employed in video conferencing

The processing load can be distributed to address changing standards like the 3D HDTV support now in the latest sets. The Texas Instruments digital light processor (DLP) was one of the first HDTV technologies to deliver the 120 Hz needed for flickerless 3D (see “LEDs Hold The Key To DLP Advantages”).

Mitsubishi’s and Samsung’s DLPs blazed a trail with their 3D checkerboard approach, but they differ from the new standard. Mitsubishi, the one company that still sells DLP HDTVs, provides an HDMI adapter that works with the current crop of 3D sources.

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The Mitsubishi 3D DLP HDTV adapter also performs the conversion for the company’s displays. In theory, the adapter could work with Samsung’s offerings. But for various reasons, it’s tied to Mitsubishi’s hardware.

Enter the wizards at Tru3D, who will sell you one of Mitsubishi’s adapters for your Samsung DLP along with another unit that makes the Samsung device look like a Mitsubishi HDTV. I’ll have more about this in a future article once I try it out.

In the meantime, look out for more distributed solutions. Internet-enabled HDTVs will become the norm on the market and at home, but cost and power requirements will limit the performance of built-in platforms.

It remains to be seen whether other corporate considerations will limit the functionality. Crippleware, though, is likely to be excused by a chorus of partnership mantras.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how “open” these systems become given that many of these platforms are likely to run frameworks like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems (see “Google’s Android Vs. Apple’s iOS: And The Winner Is?”).

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