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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Vista steals da Vinci thunder to claim 500 years in the making

The UK launch of the Vista operating system was making some rather grandiose claims by association – it has been working with the British Library on digitising two codices (partial books) of Leonardo Da Vinci so they can be seen together for the first time electronically. Fantastic – a service to the world, definitely, as the reunited Codices will be available to view through the British Library website for six months, and an opportunity to run video of the da Vinci notebooks on a blog! THIS is what the Internet is all about!
And if you use it for the launch of Vista, OK, it’s a bit tacky, but that’s OK. It’s just the tag for the reuniting of the pages – a moment 500 years in the making – alongside the Vista logos that is just too tacky.

Stay away from the F12 button - Bill Gates on the Daily Show

Bill Gates went on the Daily Show, a comedy news programme that's one of the best things to come out of the US TV, to promote the new Vista operating system.
Apparently 50 families in 7 countries provided 800 features for Vista. Really? Be very worried!

Mobile server creates whole new class of consumer product

To be honest, I didn't really think much of Agere's mobile server announcement at CES - didn't see the value of it. But they came to London and I had a chat with Ruediger Stroh, the executive vice president and general manager of the storage division, and the story is in Electronics Weekly.
The key is that the server uses pretty much any phone as the controller using a Java applet, so that basic phone can stream music or even video from the server over Bluetooth.
The real value of this is that all the content remains protected on the server, not copied to the phone, so it could also be used as a iTunes storage, just like an iPod, but play to a Bluetooth headset. It can also store all the family data (phone numbers, music etc) in different sections that can be played back to different headsets or phones.


And because it has wifi as well(it is using the Unifi WiFi + Bluetooth chip from Cambridge Silicon Radio, it could be used to download emails to the server from a hot spot, and display those on the phone - turning almost any phone into a sort-of Blackberry. Pictures and video on the server can also be displayed immediately on a TV or PC from the server via the USB2 connection or even wifi, which of which are becoming more common in TV set top boxes.

Open platform

All this is good and gives immediate value and usage. But the potential is even greater. Agere wants to make this an open platform based on the VxWorks real time operating system (although a Linux version is planned and that makes MUCH more sense for an open platform), and ARM9 or ARM11 processor core and an open programming interface so that developers can produce new applications (downloaded to the server via a USB2 link). This could mean multi-player games off the server rather than the network, linking multiple phones together.
Or you could have all the family music on it, and play different playlists back to different people in the car via Bluetooth. There are lots of different possibilities, which is what makes it so interesting.

All this from a server with between 1Gbyte for $50 and 60Gbytes for $199.

Routes to market

There are different, competing routes to market, and this will be a challenge for Agere which is s chip company, not an equipment maker. The consumer equipment makers would love this, but it needs the consumer to link to a phone. So do the operators - to encourage downloading of material and storing on the server. But they will want it through their shops with links to their phones, and there is the issue of subsidising it. This is hard to resolve and Ruediger is off to 3GSM to talk to the operators, so we will see what happens.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

High margins on the iPhone - cost analysis

Market researcher iSuppli has been hot off the blocks with a fantastic generic cost assessment of the cost of the iPhone (and much more valuable than the speculation into which chip suppliers are included).
The $499 and $599 are early price points, but Apple has significant room to move as the basic cost is around $245 (similar to other high end smart phones). While Apple has been able to hold up margins in its PC and consumer business, it will come under more pressure from the phone operators. but the hype of the last few days has helped ensure that the iPhone is a highly branded item with a brand of 'desirability' (rather than it being particularly desirable!). Some operators will fall for that, others will take a substantial share of that margin!

Click on the picture for the full analysis.

It's the interface (II)

A little old, but following on the discussion of the iPhone, this video from October shows another interface approach from Jeff Han.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cross bar for next generation FPGA

Researchers at HP Labs have developed a technique that they think could eventually dramatically increase the density of programmable gate array devices (or reduce the size and power).

The technology calls for a nanoscale crossbar switch structure to be layered on top of conventional CMOS (complementary metal oxide silicon), using an architecture HP Labs researchers have named “field programmable nanowire interconnect (FPNI)” – a variation on the well-established FPGA technology.

The research, by Greg Snider and Stan Williams of HP Labs, is a featured paper in the Jan. 24 issue of Nanotechnology (published here in Bristol, where HP also has it's European Lab) The research was conducted using classic modeling and simulation techniques, but Williams said HP is working on producing an actual chip using the approach, and could have a laboratory prototype completed later this year.

“As conventional chip electronics continue to shrink, Moore’s Law is on a collision course with the laws of physics,” said Williams, an HP Senior Fellow and director of Quantum Science Research at HP Labs. “Excessive heating and defective device operation arise at the nanoscale. What we’ve been able to do is combine conventional CMOS technology with nanoscale switching devices in a hybrid circuit to increase effective transistor density, reduce power dissipation, and dramatically improve tolerance to defective devices.”

The work uses a conceptual breakthrough for connecting a crossbar to CMOS by Dmitri Strukov and Konstantin Likharev of Stony Brook University in New York. The HP approach relies on extensive experience in fabricating crossbars and makes a number of changes designed to improve the manufacturability of the circuits.

In the FPNI approach, all logic operations are performed in the CMOS, whereas most of the signal routing in the circuit is handled by a crossbar that sits above the transistor layer. Since conventional FPGAs use 80 to 90 percent of their CMOS for signal routing, the FPNI circuit is much more efficient; the density of transistors actually used for performing logic is much higher and the amount of electrical power required for signal routing is decreased.

The researchers presented a “conservative” chip model using 15-nanometer-wide crossbar wires combined with 45-nm half-pitch CMOS, which they said they believe could be technologically viable by 2010. That would be equivalent to leaping ahead three generations on the International Technology Roadmap for Silicon without having to shrink the transistors, they said.

Then there are flights of the future, with a model based on 4.5-nm-wide crossbar wires, which they said could be ready by 2020. The 4.5-nm crossbar architecture combined with 45-nm CMOS would yield a hybrid FPGA about 4 percent the size of a 45-nm CMOS-only FPGA (or ten times the density, until limited by the transistor power). The size and power savings at this level will be a tradeoff that will be determined in ten or more years, so it's a very long way away.

One of the challenges will be yield, as the small size of the cross bar on the upper layers will make it sensitive to defects, adn that will also hit the cost, so don't write off traditional CMOS and Xilinx and Altera just yet.

All change for next generation process development

The decision by NXP Semiconductor not to continue with the Crolles2 process development consortium is not unexpected in the light of the 'asset lite' approach taken by its new owners (see earlier in this blog).
But the move opens up some musical chairs for the next members of the consortium (if any)
It is also good news for IMEC in Belgium. The R&D facility will provide the brunt of the research with extra cash from NXP and its partner, TSMC.
"We’ve chosen to strengthen our cooperation with TSMC, in the area of advanced CMOS development," said Frans van Houten, NXP President and Chief Executive Officer. "This move will enable NXP to concentrate more on creating innovative, differentiating process options, such as embedded non-volatile technology in 45nm for our state of the art System-on-Chip products, while building on the process platform from TSMC. It underlines our commitment to be a leader in advanced CMOS system chips."

A leader in chips, but not necessarily in making them!

All of this is for the generation after 45nm, so there's a long time to go - we haven't really solved how we are going to approach that, and there are several different opinions.
The NXP move opens up a space in the Crolles consortium, and IBM is said to be eyeing that up. Freescale, another member, is still considering its options (which may well depend on IBM coming in!)

CSR moves into sat nav for $1 chip

The world's leading maker of Bluetooth chips is moving into the satellite navigation market and is aiming to drive the cost of the chips down to $1!

Cambridge Silicon Radio has bought two satnav technology companies - NordNav Technologies in Norway and Cambridge Positioning Systems - in deals worth $75m.

The aim is to develop products for the Autonomous and Assisted GPS market in cell phones (combining with their Bluetooth chip) in the first half of this year.
The technology they have bought is a software-based architecture that allows an incremental price that falls to less than $1 of the overall BoM when used with CSR's Bluetooth technology. This reduces both the number of processor cycles and the time to first fix, giving a more power efficient overall solution with less than half the processing requirements of alternatives, says the company and take up 80% percent less area than competing hardware. This is why they are touting the $1 figure.
"At $5-$10, current GPS solutions are too expensive and just not practical for mainstream cellphone applications," said Matthew Phillips, senior vice president of CSR's Mobile Handset Connectivity strategic business unit. "There are also performance restrictions in terms of both handset and network that have meant that the technology is not appropriate for the mobile platform. The two acquisitions mean that CSR has removed the barriers for mobile handset makers and operators to provide location based services for the mass market."

CSR had already tried to do something similar with its Unifi range combining Bluetooth and WiFi to branch away from relying totally on the Bluetooth market, but the predicted market for WiFi enabled phones hasn't materialised, and this helps the company's need to diversify.

Micro Display maker gets order boost

Scottish micro display maker MicroEmissive Displays has won a £2m order for its polymer-OLED microdisplay from a manufacturer of consumer products in the Far East. This will also be the first to ship from the company’s new manufacturing facility in Dresden and is a key, absolutely key, demonstrator that there are people to buy the technology.
The small emissive display is a lot clearer and sharper than traditional systems, as well as being significantly lower power, but it's small - so it's going into 'eyescreen' applications such as view finders, which is a tough, established market. The deal demonstrates that they can actually win the business!
The potential though is for screens in glasses and other small, portable systems, which is huge.
“This order is first proof of MED’s assertions that the image quality and battery saving, coupled with the small size and weight allowed by integration of backlight and driver electronics, all make the eyescreen the ideal component for portable consumer products,” said Bill Miller, CEO, MicroEmissive Displays

The order is for the 6mm QVGA ME3204 microdisplay.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

iPhone and Apple TV: It's the interface, stupid

Paraphrasing a US politician is dodgy, but the key to yesterday's announcements of the iPhone (trademark by Cisco who is now suing Apple over the name!) and Apple TV (iTV is already too generic!) is the interface, just like the original Macintosh.
The ARM-based iPhone has a couple of great looks, but the feature that will carry through to almost all will be the 'pinch' - using a touch screen and 'pinching' image or text to make it bigger or smaller. More intuitive than the mouse! You can see it on video at CNET here.
The sensors are great as well - an accelerometer to tell whether the unit is landscape or portrait, and a proximity sensor to shut it down when it's flat. there is speculation that the main system chips come from Infineon and Samsung, but that is not yet confirmed.
My only worry is it will have the battery life of an iPod and have to be charged each day, especially as it runs the OSX operating system!
But the long, long awaited iPhone has overshadowed the Apple TV (on CNET here). This is a 720p HD 40Gbyte PVR system with Internet connection and WiFi (easily linked securely to a portable Mac, of course, and probably NOT to a PC!)
Again, it is the interface that makes it, and something like that will be used in all coming PVRs to replace the clunky interfaces that are used today. That will really drive the digital TV market. But the link to iTunes and to movies off iTunes is key, and really starts to make IPTV work.
Two quibbles - it will have to support 1080i for the rest of the world and HD ready sets, but that can come later. And it uses an Intel processor running OSX again! That's why it's only 720p, but gives Intel that much desired entrance to the consumer market. Unfortunately that will keep the price up (at $299 for a 40G PVR) as Intel cannot compete with the dedicated embedded devices for HD from other Apple suppliers such as Broadcom!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

CES: Sony America hits 1m mark for PS3

Oh, the power of the US market. Sony has shipped over 1m units of its Playstation3 in its first 6 weeks, and we still haven't seen it in Europe!
“SCEA went to great lengths to help meet demand for PS3, including airlifting systems into North America on a weekly basis to ensure a steady stream of units were available to consumers throughout the holiday season,” said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). “The fact that we were able to reach the one-million mark faster than our top-selling platform, PS2, further validates the strength of the PlayStation brand and our belief that consumers are ready to experience true high-definition gaming.”

Which means they lost a shed-load of cash on shipment along with the loss on the console (see previous blog on that!). But it doesn't matter, as the money is made on the games and it is more important to get the consoles out there (and in Europe!)

The struggle now in Europe will be with the Nintendo Wii, currently hot, and with the plans to turn the Xbox 360 into an IPTV engine. That will make the market very interesting.

Jan 10th: That has been shown up by the latest figures from Japan, where magazine publisher Enterbrain says Sony sold 466,716 PS3 consoles in Japan by the end of the year, while Nintendo sold 989,118 Wii units in three weeks less time.

CES: 108in LCD TV

Can't let this one go without comment: the biggest screen so far, a 108in LCD TV from Sharp. Probably costs more then the $70,000 for the current 103in screen! Phew!

CES: DRM matters more than you think

I know I've banged on about Digital Rights Management in this blog, but it's a vital issue for semiconductor and electronic equipment makers in the consumer market and that means it will make its way into other sectors including automotive and industrial.
So a dozen technology have grouped together to fight a draft international treaty that could grant broadcasters the right to charge royalties on any content they carry, as EETimes reports.
These include AT&T, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Verizon who are asking the World Intellectual Property Organization to make the treaty, due to be signed later this year, cover only the theft of the copyright material, rather than extending it to all the material broadcast. This is like all the content companies opening their wallets and pouring the money into the pockets of Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi and Barry Diller. I think not!

CES: 3D graphics core for automotive FPGAs

Xilinx has launched a 3D graphics for its range of automotive FPGAs that could well see the integration of satnav into vehicles as a standard feature alongside 3D interfaces.
The logi3D IP core was developed in collaboration with Xilinx Alliance Program participant Xylon, a leading independent design house, to run on the XA family of FPGAs. The core includes an API for the OpenGL ES1.1 standard to give Tier One automotive electronic suppliers a parameterisable and scalable solution, allowing flexibility for customised graphics applications based on specific OEM customer requirements.
The core includes a 3-D hardware acceleration IP core, a MicroBlaze configurable soft processor and display controller, all running on a Xilinx automotive qualified low cost Spartan-3 XA device. Overlay, texturing, shading, and many other features of the core can be customized quickly and efficiently.
This can be used for high-end 3D navigation, hybrid and reconfigurable clusters, multi-use centre stack displays, and automotive infotainment. Market researcher Strategy Analytics expects these markets to grow from approximately 80 million units in 2006 (original equipment and aftermarket) to nearly 100 million units in 2012.
"Our goal is to provide a full-featured 3-D capability that builds on our successful 2-D graphics core," said Davor Kovacec, CEO at Xylon. "This solution enables the customer to integrate new features for emerging 3-D automotive navigation and infotainment applications, while maintaining the ability to scale the size and complexity of the core based on the actual customer specification requirements."

High volume markets

High volume consumer and automotive products now represent 35 percent of the company’s overall revenues.
“As advanced process technology continues to drive down cost of PLDs, we are becoming more and more competitive in high volume consumer applications, especially in digital displays and consumer handsets. Last quarter we shipped over one million devices in a single month to one of our top handset manufacturers,” said Wim Roelandts, Chairman and CEO of Xilinx. “The same is true with the automotive segment, where we have 18 devices enabling the infotainment and driver assistance in a single vehicle.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

CES: Palm sized Vista PC from OQO

I just love the latest tiny notebook PC from OQO!

This machine is capable of running the Vista operating system, and yet weighs just a pound (or a quarter the weight of a full size machine). Stunning. It even has an HDMI connector to link to HD TVs!

However, I fear the time has passed for these machines. Look at the picture - you can't write easily on it and you can't really edit Powerpoint presentations, so you are going to also own a full sized laptop. So the $1500 price point is far too high for as additional machine. Shame that.

Embedded possibilities

But it does do is highlight the embedded possibilities. The processor comes from VIA Technologies, and if this 1.5GHz VIA C7M ULV processor can run Vista, then there is plenty of potential for more performance in the embedded market (running a decent real time operating system, of course).
The system is impressive: 1G of DRAM, 60G hard drive, EV-DO high speed cellular wireless (so only for the US - needs HSDPA for the rest of the world) and WiFi (of course). But the support is a bit odd - there is a quote from an obscure analyst with a VERY US-centred view of the world:

"OQO has always pushed the envelope on revolutionizing the personal computer form factor, but industry-watchers know that the big news with the model 02 is the integrated 3G capability," said Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. "This will satisfy the strong demand among mobile professionals to take full-fledged PC capabilities anywhere there is a cellphone signal -- on city streets, in suburban subdivisions and deep into rural areas."

Oh well. You need to sell this around the world to get enough volume, not just the US. It won't last, which is a shame, but it is a thing of beauty.


CES: Recharging without wires

It is fascinating to see wireless recharging coming up as an issue at this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Two US companies are exhibiting technologies to recharge equipment without having to plug them in, following in the footsteps of a Cambridge company, Splashpower.
Arizona-based start-up WildCharge is doing pretty much the same as Splashpower: a plate that equipment can sit on and be recharged. Splashpower has been working on the SplashPad and, more importantly, getting the power antenna and electronics into the battery or into the equipment, for the last three years. It also holds a fundamental patent on this charging approach, which will make for a very interesting time over the next year.
The WildCharger similarly recharges equipment by placing it on a metallic pad, a version of technology from a company called MobileWise several years ago. Unlike the SplashPad, which is targetting handheld equipment in the 3 – 10W range, the WildCharger is a 90-watt system to handle laptops as well.
And then there is the charging cup holder! Fulton Innovation has developed a similar technology called eCouple using the same adaptive inductive coupling technology.
Critically, it has signed up equipment makers such as Motorola, Mobility Electronics, Visteon and others to back it as a wireless power standard, but this also has led to the first product being developed by car sub-system supplier Visteon: a car cup holder that recharges devices set inside it using eCoupled's induction process via the 12V cigarette ighter.
The idea, like the Wildcharger and the SplashPad, is to have a "hot spot" where you set down your handheld to charge. The ting is, we know a lot more about the technology used by SplashPower and the issues it faces, rather than the new startups.
The first version of the cup holder will be available this summer, bu the SplashPad has been available for several years – the trick is getting the charging dongles for the equipment out in the market so that people will use the pads – a classic catch 22.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

CES: Who needs 1Tbyte of storage?

Does the world need a 1Tbyte hard disk drive? Well, Hitachi thinks it does, and that is backed up by market researchers iSuppli.
1024Gbytes of storage would hold 50 million sheets of A4 paper stretching 3.5 miles into the sky, or 500 full-length, standard-definition movies. Or 250,000 hours of music without repeating a song.
The 7K1000 from Hitachi Global Storage Technology launched at the Consumer Electronic Show this coming week is the first 1Tbyte HDD and uses five platters to get the dnesity. As iSuppli points out, this is a significant milestone: the first 10Mbyte drive was launched in 1985 and the first 1Gbyte capacity in 1991. Now 1Tbyte joins the party in 2007.
So where will 1Tbytes be used? The answer was in those movies – that will provide all the storage you could need. First in video on demand VoD systems, but then moving down to personal video recorders and high end gaming systems. Hence Hitachi plugging the drive with an old fashioned spool of film (not the most appropriate of images though - old analogue technology to promote leading edge digital!)
“The sweet spot for HDD capacity in the average PC remains in the 100Gbyte to 160Gbyte range,” said Krishna Chander, senior analyst, storage systems, for iSuppli. “Because of this, 1Tbyte drives probably won’t find a huge opportunity in desktop PCs for the next five to seven years, achieving only 3 percent to 5 percent penetration during this period. But, for exciting new products and applications like home gateways, media-center PCs, High Definition (HD) movie downloads, HD Set-Top Boxes (STBs) and HD Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), a 1Tbyte HDD fits the bill nicely, both in terms of capacity and cost.”

Shipments of HDDs to non-computing applications will rise at 23.8% a year from 2005 to 2010, expanding to 177.7 million units in 2010, up from 62.1 million in 2005, iSuppli predicts. For 3.5-inch HDDs like the 7K1000, unit shipments to non-computing applications will rise at a 22.8% CAGR during the same period, expanding to 67.9 million 2010, up from 24.3 million in 2005. In contrast, HDD shipments for all types of computers will rise at a CAGR of only 10.6 percent from 2005 to 2010, and shipments to desktop PCs will grow by a scant 7.1 percent.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Programmable security in HD cable box chip

Security is increasingly one of the key issues in set top box design, and Broadcom is addressing this with a programmable security engine in its latest high definition cable TV set top box chip.
The BCM7118 handles AVC and VC-1 HDTV decoding, hard disk PVR and the DOCSIS2.0 channel bonding, but the key is the integrated Broadcom secure processor (BSP) to provide security features to protect high-value content and to prevent set-top box tampering. Using multi-layered security, the BCM7118 uses both hardware and software for content security functions in a highly protected environment on-chip, effectively providing a tamper proof barrier for video and audio content. Moreover, each chip is programmed by Broadcom with a permanent unique identification and configuration that forms the foundation for specific conditional access systems, decryption key processing, key management and system protection that includes the forthcoming downloadable security system.
This provides security for present conditional access (CA) systems says Broadcom, which will include the hardware-based CA used by News International, and supports requirements for the emerging Polycipher Downloadable Conditional Access Security (DCAS). This eliminates the need for a separate smart card such as CableCARD and supports multiple conditional access systems, retail products, and multiple cable operators.
"We have integrated a tremendous amount of state-of-the art technology into the new BCM7118 cable set-top box chip based on cable operator and customer feedback regarding what they need to compete in their end markets," said Daniel Marotta, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Broadcom's Broadband Communications Group. "Our new cable TV set-top box chip sets a new benchmark for the industry with respect to speed, performance, integration, and security, plus it supports IP video services."

By moving to a DOCSIS-based platform for voice, video and data, operator's costs can be decreased while enabling their networks to support richer interactive services, switched or broadcasted IP video delivery, as well as other IP voice and data services. At the same time, the Broadcom BCM7118 will enable the development of cost-effective, low cost cable set-top boxes.
Reference designs
Of course a chip is nothing without the rest of the system, and Broadcom has developed two reference designs: the BCM97118RNG is a very low cost, entry-level digital set-top box reference platform to address applications for basic all-digital video customers, and the BCM97118 is a full-featured reference platform that includes a SATA hard disk drive and interfaces to support multi-room DVR communications.

A double sided LCD

Samsung has developed a true double sided LCD display panel so that different images can be displayed on each side of the screen.
This is aimed at cell phones, so that just one screen can be used in a clamshell design, shaving vital millimetres off the thickness and cutting down the cost of the components by cutting out a screen and its backlight.
The screen will be shown at CES next week and will start production in the first half of the year.
This is possible by using Samsung's new double-gate, thin-film transistor (TFT) architecture with two gates that operate each pixel instead of one, so the screen on the front can display different images than the one on the back. It also uses a proprietary Amorphous Silicon Gate (ASG) technology which accommodates the increased number of TFT gates without increasing the size of the driver integrated circuits.
The new display also requires only one backlight, as one side of the panel operates in a transmissive mode, while the other operates in a reflective mode. By using a unique reflective design that traps the light from the opposing screen's transmissive mode, the reflective mode does not solely rely on external light sources such as the sun.
The new double-sided LCD is 2.6mm thick and 2.22" wide, with QVGA (240 x 320 pixel) resolution, and has brightness values of 250 nits for the front and 100 nits for the rear display.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

CES: Flash drives for consumer notebooks

The rush of announcements for the Consumer Electronics Show next week is starting, with SanDisk saying it will be showing flash drives for consumer notebook PC makers. This is nothing new (the LG Phenom was a flash-based, Windows CE, instant-on ultra portable laptop, and these drives are used in aircraft and military systems for weight and reliability), but getting them down to the right price point is the challenge.
SanDisk is talking about a 32Gbyte drive, while low end notebooks have a 40GB drive, most now have 80GB or 120GB,and who will pay more for a low end notebook. Analysts estimate it will add $600 to the cost of a notebook, which is too high for most of the market, even with a faster boot time (35s for Windows Vista rather than 55s for a traditional drive). The real benefit comes with the 'always on' state, where the state is stored in flash as well and the notebook doesn't have to be booted. That would be worth the extra cash.
While the primary race is between the falling cost of magnetic media (and the hybrids with a disk and a large flash buffer) and the rising density of flash, that added feature of 'instant on' is the point and don't be surprised if that is what is demonstrated next week.

CES: Surround sound from a single speaker

All of a sudden sound is important, and chip makers have been teaming with a new generation of algorithm suppliers to improve the performance of all sound systems. Companies such as Bose, B&O and Tivoli are experts at matching speaker systems to the electronics, but they keep the technology tightly in-house (and charge accordingly).
Now companies like Micronas and ST Microelectronics are integrating similar technologies from other algorithm suppliers into single chips for the mass market.
German chip maker Micronas has teamed up with Cambridge-based 1 Ltd to develop a ‘Digital Sound Projector’ in a consumer audio system-on-chip.
The Digital Sound Projector is a single speaker enclosure containing an array of speakers that simultaneously produce multiple beams of sound. These beams are individually steered and projected within the room, using the walls and ceiling to reflect these beams and produce real surround-sound for the TV viewer.
The flexibility also allows TV viewers to simultaneously watch different programmes being shown on a split screen – without using headphones. Called Beam2Me, this function collapses each programmes surround sound into a mono beam which is then beamed directly at each viewer. Beam2Me can also send the audio beam from one room to another using wall reflections and door openings, features unavailable from other surround systems.
The Digital Sound Projector technology is implemented in the firmware of the QuadMAU audio DSP in Micronas’ MAP-M and MSP-M family of audio processors for digital TVs.
“Implementing Digital Sound Projector IP into the leading range of Micronas SoC audio processors is the first step in gaining mass consumer take-up of the technology,” said Steve Collicott, Business Development Manager of 1 Ltd. “Consumers will be able to purchase FPTV’s with an integrated Digital Sound Projector exploiting its advanced beaming features whilst taking advantage of a real surround-sound system without the clutter of separate speakers and cables. Unlike psycho-acoustic offerings, the Micronas solutions allow all of the audio channels to be heard, even when moving around the room”.

At the same time, ST Microelectronics has teamed up with QSound Labs to use QSound’s QHD and QSurround 5.1 technology in its new ‘Sound Terminal’ chips (STA3xxQS) for flat-panel TVs, active speakers and home theatre systems.
The STA3xxQS range includes digital audio processing, digital amplifier control, power output stage and QSound audio enhancements for expanded stereo image and multi-speaker surround capability – to deliver a fuller, more natural and immersive audio experience.
ST’s ‘Sound Terminal’ idea is intended to bring high audio quality, lower power dissipation and reduced manufacturing costs for flat panel TV sets, wireless products and personal audio systems by putting all the chips in a single package for a fully digital stream from sound source to loudspeaker.
QHD and Qxpander are stereo sound-field enhancement technologies that synthesise a 3D stereo sound field. QSound QHD removes the small centralized audio sweet spot by creating a very wide stereo image with full immersive audio, while QSurround 5.1 adapts stereophonic audio signals for effective playback on multi-speaker ‘surround’ systems.
“Sound enrichment is a key asset for ST’s ‘Sound Terminal’ customers and QSound’s QHD and QSurround 5.1 technologies offer a unique combination of audio quality and efficiency, when incorporated into our single-chip audio solutions,” said Andrea Onetti, Audio Division General Manager, Home Entertainment and Displays Group, STMicroelectronics. “The unique ST offering of ‘Sound Terminal’ products can now leverage the QSound partnership in this and future product launches for the very best audio solutions available.”

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Whatever happened to flexible screens?

One question I was asked over the New Year was 'whatever happened to the flexible screens that you can roll up and put in your pocket - that would be great!'
So coming back to look at the electronics market in 2007, the first announcement is on just that - Plastic Logic, one of the key pioneers in screen printing plastic transistors onto flexible substrates, has raised $100m and is building a factory in Dresden in Germany to build the screens.
The Cambridge-based company has been working away on the technology, raising the resolution to 150 dpi (as most images on the PC screen are 72 or 96dpi, that should be good enough but better than the previous 100 dpi) and working on the contrast (absolutely vital to make the screen as readable as possible) and the reliability (a major issue if you keep rolling the screen up).
The company aims to provide the 150dpi 10inch screens in volume in 2008.

The funding round is one of the biggest in Europe, and was led by Oak Investment Partners and Tudor Investment Corporation. Existing investors Amadeus, which led the seed financing of Plastic Logic, Intel Capital, Bank of America, BASF Venture Capital, Quest for Growth and Merifin Capital also participated.
“Having backed Plastic Logic from day one, I am delighted that the first full commercialization of plastic electronics is now firmly in our sights. With this investment we are not only scaling up a great company - we are also creating a new electronics industry that will become a significant addition to silicon,” said Hermann Hauser, Director of Amadeus.