New Consumer Apps Hop Into The Driver's Seat

Jan. 12, 2006
Digital may think it rules the consumer space, but analog still has a place in many applications.

If you want to know what's going on, ask the folks with the most feet on the street. I spoke with engineers at several major companies to get a feel for what's in store for the analog/mixed-signal arena in 2006. Once again, consumer applications are the big drivers. This year, new video modalities are pushing innovation.

Flat-panel display technology prices continue to plummet, but big screens come with big challenges. Artifacts created in the imaging, compression, decompression, upconversion, and downconversion processes become embarassingly evident on wall-mount screens. Efforts to reduce and eliminate them are pushing last year's 8-bit data conversion to 10 and even 12 bits. Also, higher frame rates and display resolutions make it necessary to shove more pixels per second through the wires, demanding higher conversion rates.

If HDTV's inherent artifacts weren't enough, cleaning up video content from old standard-definition tapes and DVDs so they don't look awful on the big screen challenges the more expensive HDTVs that provide inputs for legacy sources. DSP alone can't handle the cleanup. Ensuring that the video presented to the DSP is as clean as possible creates another opportunity for analog chip makers (see the figure).

LCD projectors are even more finicky and require the same kind of cleanup. In business, these projectors usually display PowerPoint presentations, where computer-generated text emphasizes any video artifacts induced by shortcomings in the signal chain.

The chip-makers' challenge is to deliver everything desired by OEMs, even though they're pinching pennies by refusing to put negative supply rails on their boards. The OEMs still want ±15 V from amps powered by a single 12- or even 5-V rail.

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) promises media networking, allowing consumers to push video around the house with a wireless link. UWB's implications for converters are 5 or 6 bits at several hundred megahertz. IEEE 802.11n features a multi-antenna technology called MIMO (multiple-inputs/multiple outputs). Antenna arrays aren't exactly new, but now they're approaching mainstream with 802.11n MIMO technology. Here especially, the trick for converter technology is integration and power efficiency.

For more about the market, see "Cellular, Wireless Infrastructure" at, Drill Deeper 11837.

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