[opendtv] Chip makers venture into portable HD H.264 market

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2006 10:53:30 -0500

I'm not sure why they say here that the Japanese and Korean markets have
different priorities from the US and Euro markets. Surely, all markets
need real-time encoders for consumer appliances such as DVRs?


Chip makers venture into portable HD H.264 market

Junko Yoshida
(12/15/2006 12:01 AM EST)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=196604429

MANHASSET, N.Y. - Shifting warily from the fast-growing but increasingly
commoditized H.264 decoder IC market, several semiconductor companies
are testing the waters for H.264 High Profile encoder/decoders.

With codec demand said to be poised to explode among Japanese and South
Korean consumer electronics manufacturers, the chip vendors hope to
claim design turf in high-definition digital still cameras, digital
video camcorders and storage devices. Fujitsu Microelectronics announced
last week that it is sampling a hardwired H.264 codec designed to handle
the video format's High Profile, Level 4 standard. Ambarella Inc.
(Sunnyvale, Calif.), introduced the industry's first H.264 High Profile
codec a year ago but has made few waves since then.

Chief technology officer Les Kohn told EE Times that Ambarella's chip
has secured design wins with "several first-tier Japanese and Korean CE

Most of the H.264 chips on the market, from such vendors as Broadcom,
STMicroelectronics and Sigma Design, target optical disk players and
digital set-tops and thus perform decode only.

But Ambarella's device adds the encode function to target design slots
in next-generation digital cameras and portable storage devices. Citing
recent advances in digital video compression with the development of the
H.264 (main profile) standard, the company notes that users can now
store one hour of true high-definition video (720p or 1080i) and four
hours of standard-definition video on a 4-Gbyte flash device.

Ambarella's H.264 system-on-chip is based on a mix of dedicated
hardwired blocks and programmable processor cores, including the ARM926.
The chip integrates all the required digital camera system functions,
ranging from HD video processing/compression and image sensor processing
to audio processing and system functions. Ambarella says the SoC can
replace current tape-based camcorder solutions requiring six or more
chips. It draws less than 1 watt in operation, according to Kohn.

Fujitsu's system-in-package (SiP) device, the MB86H50, offers real-time
encoding and decoding for H.264 High Profile video files and streams. By
leveraging the efficiency of the H.264 video compression standard,
Fujitsu's codec allows a consumer audio/video storage system to record
and store more video content in high-definition resolution, said Davy
Yoshida, director of business development at Fujitsu Microelectronics
America. The MB86H50 also encodes and decodes sound in various digital
audio formats, including Dolby Digital.

The Ambarella and Fujitsu chips play to the requirements of Japanese and
South Korean consumer electronics manufacturers, whose priorities and
system design objectives for H.264 devices diverge from those of their
U.S. and European counterparts.

For example, Fujitsu's Yoshida touted the MB86H50's "low-power
operation" and "smaller footprint." Like Ambarella, Fujitsu is pitching
its H.264 chip for small consumer products, including digital still
cameras, portable media devices and personal video recorders (PVRs).

By embedding two units of 256-Mbit fast-cycle RAM (FCRAM) on the same
device "for the first time in the industry," claimed Yoshida, the
MB86H50 allows a smaller system pc board while cutting power
consumption. The 15-mm2 SiP device consumes 600 mW.

MB86H50 chips have been in the hands of a couple of unidentified
Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers for "more than a year" said
Yoshida. The companies are believed to be close to commercial launch on
products incorporating the device.

Michelle Abraham, principal analyst at In-Stat, said the only chip she
is aware of that's comparable to Fujitsu's is the Ambarella codec.
Abraham said the Fujitsu IC, when used to transcode MPEG-2 to H.264,
will be useful for either hard drive- or optical-based digital video

But the Fujitsu chip may not be ideal for every H.264 application.
Developers of HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc players may be better off going
with devices that can decode multiple video formats, since both
next-generation optical standards mandate that systems decode not only
H.264 but also VC-1 and MPEG-2. Asked why Fujitsu had limited its chip
to H.264, Yoshida replied that versions combining the H.264 codec with
the company's existing MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 cores are already on the road
map. A chip that will transcode video from MPEG-2 High Level to H.264 is
slated for introduction in next year's third quarter. The company is
also working on an HD multidecoder chip that will handle both H.264 High
Profile and MPEG-2 High Level, Yoshida said.

As for why the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers' VC-1
standard has been left off the slate at Fujitsu, Yoshida said customers
are still debating whether that advanced video codec is a crucial
ingredient in the multidecoder mix. VC-1, which was based on Microsoft
Corp.'s Windows Media Video 9, is "not necessarily a given" for the
set-top and PVR applications planned by Japanese consumer electronics
companies, he said.

The Fujitsu chip's ability to compress large volumes of data for
real-time H.264 High Profile encode and decode is enabled by proprietary
compression and image enhancement technology developed by Fujitsu
Laboratories, Yoshida said. Fujitsu's proprietary "self-tuning
algorithms" apply different levels of compression intensity to different
scenes or objects.

The MB86H50, scheduled for volume production in the second quarter on a
90-nanometer process, is sampling now at $120 each. Yoshida would not
provide volume pricing.

Ambarella's chip, already in production on a 130-nm process at TSMC, is
available at $30 in high volumes.

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