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Mobilygen fields H.264 codecs to turn on flash-based TV

MANHASSET, N.Y. — Fabless chip company Mobilygen (Santa Clara, Calif.) is betting its new family of next-generation H.264 codecs, in tandem with swiftly sinking prices for solid-state memory, will spur development of such products as TVs that can accomplish “pause” and “instant replay” of broadcast programming without the use of a hard drive.

The codec systems-on-chip, dubbed en-ViE (for “enabling video everywhere”), can handle “the highest-quality HD H.264 encoding/decoding [i.e., H.264 High Profile] of multiple SD streams, while offering extensive network support for secure video streaming over Internet Protocol networks,” according to Mobilygen. In addition to the advanced H.264 codec, the product family comprises an MPEG2 decoder and a JPEG codec that includes support for Motion JPEG.

Mobilygen is steering clear of conventional consumer H.264 markets, such as cable/satellite set-top boxes and high-definition recorders based on HD-DVD or Blu-ray optical disks. The company is focusing instead on the burgeoning demand for H.264 codecs for consumer and industrial applications that must offer the best video quality despite limited storage capacity or limited bandwidth, said Chris Day, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

No stranger to the H.264 codec world, Mobilygen introduced a single-chip H.264 codec for security and surveillance cameras in 2004 and followed up with a customer-specific, low-power H.264-based camcorder system-on-chip. The SoC will emerge in a consumer camcorder by year's end, said Day.

The en-ViE feature set steers H.264 toward such target applications as personal-content creation products (enabling video capture/playback); portable media players, such as video iPods; personal video recorders with time-shifting capability; “place shifting” technologies like the Slingbox; Internet Protocol TVs; video telephony; and surveillance/security applications.

PVRs, wirelessly networked consumer systems and portable media players are all clamoring for compression efficiency, said Brian Johnson, director of technical marketing at Mobilygen. The ability to “transcode,” for example from MPEG-2 to H.264, is an essential feature in such systems. High-quality “transrating” (dynamically changing the bit rate) and scaling are also necessary to support resolution and variable quality-of-service for robust video delivery.

Low-power H.264 encode/decode capability is another must-have in many apps to keep heat generation in check. “Imagine banks of security digital video recorders, handling multiple streams of encoding, installed in a casino that must run 24/7. Fans built into the surveillance system become a reliability weakness,” Johnson said. And in battery-operated IP cameras, the heat buildup from continuous encoding can degrade sensor performance because the sensor cannot distinguish between heat and light, he said.

Typically, an en-ViE codec requires only 500 milliwatts for 1081i encoding, according to Mobilygen. “That's just a tenth of what's needed by competing DSP-based solutions,” said Johnson.

The en-ViE family members are the MG3500 HD SoC; the MG2500, an SD subset of the 3500; and the MG4500, designed for multiple video inputs and capable of handling up to eight D1 streams. The pin-compatible devices all integrate an embedded ARM processor, NAND or NOR flash support, SD/SDIO/MMC/CE-ATA interfaces, an Ethernet MAC for 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet support, a USB 2.0 On the Go port, AES and SHA encryption for secured Internet-based networking, UARTs, JTAG, serial control and GPIO. The 240-MHz ARM926 processor includes DSP extensions and 16 kbytes each of instruction cache, data cache and scratchpad memory.

The SoCs are manufactured on a 90-nanometer process at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. The MG2500 and MG3500 will sample in mid-August and MG45500 in the fourth quarter. The MG3500 HD codec is priced at $30 in high volumes.

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