Single-chip systems make digital video easy

- December 05, 2005

Texas Instruments accelerates development of digital video applications with first products based on DaVinci technology
Houston—Simplifying digital video innovation, Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN) (TI) today announced the availability of the first products based on its DaVinci technology (announced September 8, 2005). The new products include two digital signal processor- (DSP) based system-on-chips (SoC), multimedia codecs, application programming interfaces (APIs), frameworks, and development tools, all optimized to enable innovation for digital video systems. These integrated components are the industry's first complete offering of an open platform to enable digital video innovation without requiring extensive digital video expertise. With these DaVinci products, adding digital video to an application becomes as simple as writing to an API, saving original equipment manufacturers months of development time and lowering overall system costs.

TI has made this possible by eliminating the complexity of digital video through the integration of hardware and software, allowing developers to build upon existing, production-tested software components optimized for digital video. With the first of many DaVinci products from TI, digital video will be as easy to implement as an off-the-shelf component.

"Texas Instruments' DaVinci technology is very clearly a landmark in consumer electronics," said Chris Crotty, senior consumer electronics analyst, iSuppli Corporation. "We've had an audio revolution; a video revolution is the next step in consumer electronics. It looks like TI is taking care of everything and providing a very complete solution for developers that will enable digital video innovation and the next generation of consumer video devices."

Now sampling, DaVinci processors reduce system cost
The TMS320DM644x architecture is a highly integrated system-on-chip (SoC) that has absorbed many of the external components required for digital video, dropping hardware bill of materials by as much as 50 percent. The DM644x devices are based on TI's performance-leading TMS320C64x+ DSP core, an ARM926 processor, video accelerators, networking peripherals and external memory/storage interfaces all specifically tuned for video. The TMS320DM6443, tuned for video decode applications, provides all of the processing components required to decode digital video, including both analog and digital video output with integrated resizer and on-screen display (OSD) engines. The TMS320DM6446, tuned for video encode and decode applications, adds video encoding capabilities through a dedicated video processing front end capable of capturing various digital video formats.

Software Infrastructure Speeds Time to Market
The complete DaVinci software infrastructure, from low-level OS drivers to application APIs, makes it possible for developers to implement digital video without having to focus resources on writing and optimizing codecs or programming a DSP. Initially, based on the Linux operating system, APIs mask the complex hardware and software details of implementing codecs from developers, enabling them to interchange multimedia codecs without having to modify application code. Optimized video and audio codecs are also available for free evaluation and licensing from TI to simplify and speed customer design and decision making.

When creating applications, developers are able to write to industry-recognized APIs for storage, networking and video interfaces leveraging standard OS development environments. OEMs are still empowered to access and develop directly on the DSP and ARM should they choose. The result is that developers are able to take advantage of the SoC's performance and focus on developing their own value-added features.

"DaVinci technology gives developers flexible combinations of components to quickly create high-performance and production-tested designs without getting bogged down in the details of video implementation," said Greg Mar, DSP SoC platform manager, TI. "DaVinci technology will be implemented into a wide variety of applications, such as videophones, video security systems, and innovative devices that will take advantage of easy digital video implementation."

Complete system tools and support enable implementation
Developers can begin evaluation and implementation of the DM644x devices with the Digital Video Evaluation Module (DVEVM). The DVEVM contains the MontaVista 2.6.10 Linux Preview Kit and MontaVista GNU development tools. In addition, the DV-EVM includes a NTSC/PAL camera, LCD screen, prewired video encode and decode codec demos, and the ability to create new demos with original video streams. The DVEVM also offers connectivity to video inputs and outputs, networking interfaces, storage interfaces, and standard daughter card connections, so developers can use the DVEVM for their application prototypes. Using the DVEVM, developers can write production-ready application code for the ARM and access the DSP core using DaVinci APIs to begin application development immediately for both the DM6443 and DM6446.

Code Composer Studio Integrated Development Environment supporting TMS320DM644x devices is also available now giving design engineers the flexibility to work with the tool chain they are most familiar with. DaVinci products are backed by TI and its third party network that is able to offer video system expertise to customers worldwide.

In addition to TI's DaVinci products and digital signal processors, the company offers a complete portfolio of high-performance analog products for video applications. For example, TI provides high-performance clocking solutions, high-speed video amplifiers and power management products designed for the unique requirements of digital video.

Pricing and availability
The TMS320DM6443 and TMS320DM6446 are pin-for-pin and software-compatible, as well as being code compatible with previous generations of TMS320DM644x devices and are sampling immediately. The DM6443 is $29.95 and the DM6446 is $34.95, both in quantities of 10KU in 2006. The DVEVM (TMDXEVM6446) is $1,995 and available for order entry. For more information, click here.

Texas Instruments Inc., 1-972-927-6377,

Gil Bassak discusses DaVinci technology with TI's Gregory Mar
Dick Tracy fans, brace yourselves. That signature two-way wrist-TV worn by Tracy, the popular comic-strip detective of the last century, has just taken a giant step closer to reality. This editor's strictly personal prediction follows the introduction by Texas Instruments Inc.'s of its first two products—the TMS320DM6443 video decoder and the TMS320DM6446 video encoder and decoder—to be based on TI's DaVinci technology; a technology first announced in September.

As the adjacent press release notes, TI has rolled out two DSP-based systems on chip that let you add digital video to products without your needing to be an expert in either digital video or signal processing. In effect, it is a bold move to bring digital video quickly, cheaply, easily, and virtually risk-free to the broadest possible market. (In a related note, MontaVista Software, Inc. announced that its Linux Professional Edition is the first operating system being offered for DaVinci products.)

In large part, these and forthcoming DaVinci systems on chip (SoC), says Gregory Mar, TI's DSP SoC manager, are aimed at the "many OEMs who have shied away from adding embedded digital devices because it has been too complex." Not just complex, but also risky, says Mar, emphasizing that for the person responsible for bringing a product to market, such complexity is "the stuff that makes or breaks careers." In contrast, the DaVinci architecture provides all the hardware and software needed to add digital video while shielding the designer from much of the technical trip wires.

That said, knowledgeable designers are nevertheless free to roll up their sleeves and dig into the chips' hardware and software resources to make changes they may seek. "The integrated software is optimized for the platform. It performs like a fixed function device, if you want it to," says Mar. "But it's also open, so you can program the DSP and application processor depending on your comfort level."

The ease of use being touted for the DaVinci product line, says Mar, belies the huge technical effort expended by TI's worldwide team to meet their goals. "A tremendous amount of resources went into both the silicon and the software infrastructure," he says, noting proudly that on the same day that the products were introduced, more than 60 optimized algorithms were already available to run on the DSP.

And that, he says, only hints at the overall achievement, which also includes making the products available to a broad market as well as giving access to the software infrastructure. "To bring a codec to market, you need to know what you are doing," says Mar. "To bring it to market for a 'mass play,' however, where people can access it from an API level rather than at the silicon level took a tremendous amount of dedication."

Among those obstacles, he notes, was building a software framework that is both very robust and very thin, so as to conserve memory. In addition, success meant building the optimized software framework in a way, says Mar, that lets the codecs interoperate while managing the accelerators; a DSP; and an ARM core, which serves as the application processor; as well as coordinate memory sharing and switch fabric resources, among other tasks. "There's a tremendous amount of handshaking that takes place to manage all the buses and handle memory and peripheral allocation," says Mar, "yet it's all made seamless to the application programmer."

Beyond the sophisticated architecture and optimized software framework is the appealing fact that each of these and future DaVinci systems fit onto one chip. "These products pull in from six to nine silicon devices, along with software, including USB and Ethernet device drivers," says Mar. "Instead of hooking up different chips, writing device drivers, and resolving conflicts—in other words, getting the thing to work—the customer can focus on adding value." Besides cutting the bill-of-material costs as much as in half, other advantages of single-chip integration include power and space savings and manufacturing reliability, all of which slash system-level costs.

Future DaVinci products, says Mar, will follow one of two tracks. One, like the two chips being announced, will focus on broadband digital video, offering mobile, high-definition, and other versions that "customers can innovate on top of if they like." The second track will target vertical markets, like automotive infotainment and video phones.