Thanks to MPEG-2 compression, most major markets have accepted digital television (DTV). But stay tuned. H.264-AVC (MPEG-4 Part 10) and Microsoft's VCI compression standards promise even more dramatic advances for both standard and high-definition (HD) TV. Broadcast equipment OEMs will need to move to these newer compression encoding standards to effectively deal with current and future bandwidth requirements.

In this design transition, the OEMs not only will deal with core video codec standards but also with different, more demanding video pre-and post-processing algorithms that are essential for maintaining and enhancing picture quality. Given this scenario, the design outlook is challenging.

Expanding resolutions and evolving compression standards require higher performance from the underlying technology. Architectures also must remain sufficiently flexible to give designers quick and efficient upgradeability and an easy, cost-efficient migration path to volume production.

This is where FPGAs play a key role. Designers have other options, like ASICs and ASSPs. Both provide a low-cost, fixed platform for product design. Yet each has some clear disadvantages relating to the desired end product flexibility in evolving markets.

Product differentiation is difficult with ASSPs, and they usually aren't available for the most current standards and logic functions. As for ASICs, custom development is time-intensive and costly with nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs exceeding $500,000, year-long development cycles, and the associated delays of silicon re-spins for design changes. The ideal architecture, on the other hand, mates high performance, easy upgradeability, and a low development cost.

BATTER UP
H.264 AVC is a brand new ballgame. For instance, performance not only applies to compression, but also to pre- and post-processing. In many cases, functions like scaling, deinterlacing, filtering, and color space conversion require higher-performance silicon than compression algorithms.

Additionally, real-time video processing in DTV systems rules out processor-only architectures. They cannot meet the performance requirements with a single CPU. A state-of-the-art DSP running at 1 GHz cannot perform H.264 HD decoding, and H.264 HD encoding is about 10 times more complex than decoding. Clearly, more horsepower is required.

Programmable logic complies particularly well with video and imaging processing demands. FPGAs fit into this application area based on their inherent characteristics. A single device executes HD processing. And, FPGAs allow rapid architectural changes to quickly comply with evolving requirements.

To facilitate FPGA design, video development kits can be obtained for slightly more than $1000. These kits should include the software tools needed for complete video system development. They also provide a head start in rapidly developing target systems and allow the system OEM to focus on the secret sauce that will help differentiate the resulting product.

Equally important, the FPGA manufacturer should have a reputation for successfully shipping products for many years after introduction. Plus, this supplier should demonstrate that its FPGAs can be effectively migrated to the next manufacturing process node on schedule. It also should demonstrate a robust video and image processing solution incorporating valuable contributions from its expert partners.

PART OF THE ECOSYSTEM
No single company can bring everything required to solve these complex design challenges. The problems are too numerous. What works in today's environment is an ecosystem of partnering companies addressing the OEM's needs and filling the voids with best-in-class solutions.

The way forward is an ecosystem of expertise, technology, and silicon addressing all digital logic needs. The ecosystem must address all of the OEM's pain points. Its partners, typically a generalist surrounded by specialists, can create that best-in-class solution.

Executing this support infrastructure for OEMs requires deep insight into current and future customer needs. When effectively executed, the support ecosystem partners enable OEMs to move up the value chain by focusing on applying their differentiation to high-definition DTV products.

See Associated Figure