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It’s crunch time for HDMI in the digital home

MANHASSET, N.Y. — A decade ago, digital ICs like demodulation, audio/video decompression ICs were the make-or-break components for consumer electronics companies seeking to launch the transition to the digital home.

Today, analog and mixed signal chips–video encoders and HDMI connectivity ICs–are the components that determine many digital consumer systems' time to market.

This theory is what Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) is banking on, and it seems to be succeeding, if the company's recent design wins with Yamaha and Hitachi are any indication.

ADI said Wednesday (June 11) that Yamaha has installed into its new audio video receivers ADI's Blackfin processor, and ADI's three Advantiv advanced television ICs developed to enable video and HDMI connectivity.

ADI also recently announced that Hitachi's HD wireless video hub launched in Japan, by using Tzero's UWB connectivity silicon, has deployed ADI's wireless HDMI reference design. The reference design has allowed multiple entertainment HD sources to be connected wirelessly to an ultra-slim Hitachi HDTV unit called Wooo UT HDTV.

Enabling Yamaha

Doug Bartow, strategic marketing manager of ADI's advanced television segment, said, “Yamaha came to ADI, when they decided to develop AV receivers with unbelievable functionality at a very low cost.”

ADI claimed to have offered Yamaha three things: meeting Yamaha's cost goals; offering HDMI and HDCP compliances; and enabling low latencies for channel changes and input selections.

Bartow called the collaboration with Yamaha “a ground-breaking undertaking” that has involved ADI engineering teams at five different sites.

And that probably isn't an overstatement.

Mark Kirstein, president & co-founder of MultiMedia Intelligence, observed that such an AV home theatre box as that of Yamaha's is in effect a “networked device.” The number of design challenges embodied in such a device include: “achieving the multiple levels of interoperability, and increasing intelligence in the box at a cost-competitive price.”

ADI helped Yamaha reduce system cost by offering a single Blackfin DSP, replacing three microprocessors that used to drive a home theatre box.

Further, ADI integrated software drivers for three Advantiv ICs into the Blackfin system software package. “ADI developed audio decode and HDMI repeater software drivers,” said Bartow, “while Yamaha developed a user interface.” Such ADI-developed software are: Dolby Digital decoder, DTS decoding and the standards-compliant HDMI repeater functionality with HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection).

Unlike Broadcom or STMicroelectronics, ADI has never had much presence in the digital IC market for digital TVs or cable/satellite set-tops.

Bartow, calling the digital IC market consisting of demodulator, MPEG video, and image scaling ICs “already very crowded and very much commoditized,” said that ADI is focused on “analog processing and all the output” that must be integrated in digital box design.

Indeed, none of those analog processing and connectivity capabilities is trivial to design. Take an example of HDCP repeater functions, said Bartow. AV receivers, with multiple HDMI inputs, for example, need to do handshakes and authentications with various connected devices “in a blink of an eye.” The AV receiver, first, does a handshake with a Blu-ray player, for example. The same AV receiver, meanwhile, needs to check keys associated with an HDTV. Once those keys are OK, then, the AV receiver must authenticate with HDTV and Blu-ray all over again, explained Bartow.

ADI built some hooks onto its HDMI ICs so the “authentication process is kept as simple as possible,” Bartow said. ADI developed “stand-by and ready-to-go mode” in its ADV7441, an integrated video decoder and HDMI receiver, resulting in very little delay when signals go through an analog source device to an HDMI-featured equipment, or from an HDMI system to another HDMI device.

Kirstein noted that differentiation for ADI's silicon solution is “based on bringing all the analog and digital functionality together in a cost-effective and time-competitive fashion.”

These digital home theater receivers are taking on increased intelligence “to manage what is in effect, a digital network,” he added. “This brings the level of complexity and design challenges to a new level, as function-specific devices (AV receivers) need to consider content protection, authentication, protocols, and most importantly, interoperability.”

Thus, “although the individual standards-based chips migrate to commoditization, ADI brings a higher-level of system-level integration to bear for the Yamaha design in,” he said. Kirstein described that ADI differentiation is at the system level, while “Yamaha's differentiation is features, functions, time to market and affordability (cost).”

Wireless HD video transmission hub

Meanwhile, ADI won a design-win with Hitachi's wireless HD video transmission hub, with ADI's wireless reference design. The platform is to make HD video transmission easy regardless of connectivity method — via wireless (USB or 802.11n, etc), power line or coax.

Integrated in the reference design include: JPEG2000-based “Wavescale” video compression codec; HDMI transmitters and receivers; video decode functions; power management; fan management; clock generation circuitry; and HDMI repeater functions. Later, Blackfin is being added to the reference design, as the DSP performs audio decoder, system control and HDMI/HDCP repeater functions at lower, according to Bartow.

The goal of such a platform is “to drive system implementations,” he said, by providing “software, board layout and successful HDMI compliancy.” For the Hitachi wireless video transmission hub, ADI's Wavescale compression technology has played a critical role as it offers “visually lossless fidelity and performance,” Bartow added.

ADI believes the Wavescale codec will prevail because bandwidth will always be an issue for most wireless HD connectivity solutions.

While it is still not common to see JPEG2000 chips implemented in digital consumer devices today, Bartow said that “some other notable brand names in Japan” will be also soon adopting ADI's Wavescale codec.

Adding a codec such as Wavescale in a system, however, will raise a few issues: additional cost and latency.

Bartow noted that the cost of ADI's Wavescale codec is “already less expensive than UWB's radio,” as high-volume consumer applications roll out. Latency is becoming less an issue, unless a user is an “uber gamer,” he said. ADI claims that the current solution minimizes latency to “less than 100 milliseconds” when changing channels or video sources. “We demonstrate a wireless HD video hub connected to Sony's PlayStation 3,” he added, “so that we can show that latency is no longer an issue.”

ADI is confident that the combination of its Blackfin and HDMI connectivity solutions will pave the way for the company to further penetrate the digital consumer market.

Currently, ADI's biggest competitor in the HDMI chip market is Silicon Image.

Others in the HDMI market include: Broadcom, NXP Semicodnctors, ST Microelectroincs, Texas Instrments, Pericom and Zoran, according to Kirstein. He estimated the HDMI market to be more than 150million annual CE units.

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