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April 15, 1992

SIGNAL PROCESSING CHIP VENDORS RUSH TO EMBRACE VIDEO, SOUND COMPRESSION

By CBR Staff Writer

While one half of the communications industry develops systems that provide ever-greater amounts of bandwidth, the other half is working on compression techniques to avoid the need for said capacity. Last week saw three digital signal processing suppliers stampede towards the same goal of providing commercially useful chip sets that can be programmed to handle a variety of compression algorithms. So what kind of applications are they aiming at? Here’s a clue. Company number one, Santa Clara, California-based Integrated Information Technology Inc’s chip set lies at the heart of the AT&T Co analogue videophone where it carries out video compression.

AT&T videophone

Company number two, Analog Devices Inc of Norwood, Massachusetts has a chip set that also lies at the heart of the AT&T analogue videophone, where it handles compression of sound. The third company is AT&T itself, which despite the fact that it doesn’t use its own chips in the video telephone, has launched an impressively low-priced board for multimedia developers. All three companies are pushing to get their raw technology used in real-world applications. In Integrated Information’s case, the company is poised to reduce the number of chips needed to compress and process video signals. The Santa Clara manufacturer unveiled its Vision Processor chip last September, but at that time, it needed three support chips – a direct memory access controller, a CPU and a video input-output chip. It is these three functions that the company has incorporated onto its new Vision Controller chip that will begin sampling in May. The company’s approach to compression is innovative in that both the Vision Processor and the new Controller are programmable, the first in microcode, the last in C. As a result, customers can implement a variety of compression standards such as Joint Photographic Experts Group for stills, Moving Picture Experts Group for moving pictures or the CCITT H.261 videoconferencing standard. Alternatively they can, as AT&T did, assemble their own compression system. The company says that the two chips, together with software, will cost around $250 in quantities of 1,000, and it reckons that the new launch will see the market take off.

By Chris Rose

As it stands, Integrated Information has only one customer for its existing video processor, and that is Compression Labs Inc of San Jose, California. Product manager Tim Williams claims that this because Integrated Information has not been pushing the technology until the Vision Controller was ready – a novel marketing strategy. Alongside the new chip, Integrated Information says it is planning to speed up the Vision Processor. It is currently manufactured in 1 micron CMOS technology and running at 33MHz, but Williams says that planned 0.8 micron and 0.65 micron versions of the chips should run at around 50MHz. The result? Future chip sets should be able to cope with the CCIR 601 standard – broadcast quality, real-time compression at 720 by 576 pixels resolution. It is not, Williams acknowledges, the fastest system on the market – Beverley Hills, California-based C-Cube Microsystems Inc, for example, has a device that will run Moving Picture Experts Group faster – but that is not programmable. Much of the interest, according to Williams, will come from research companies wanting to test various compression techniques on a system that will let them run in real-time. Analog’s approach is similar – two chips, one for input-output, one for signal processing and algorithm software. However, the Norwood, Massachusetts company’s attempt to corner the market centres on teaming up with Independent Algorithm Vendors, companies that have expertise in specific areas of signal processing. So far, the company has more to show for its efforts that Integrated Information, and four companies have taken the bait. In the field of modems, the chosen partner is Digicom Systems Inc; Lernout & Hauspie Speechproducts NV of Brussels, Belgium is using the chip set for speech recognition and text to speech conversion; Californian Xing

Technology Corp, headquartered in the splendidly-named Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo County, is using the technology for still image and audio compression; and Euphonics Inc is adapting the Dolby AC-2 digital audio algorithm for signal processing implementations. The first fruit of these collaborative projects was also announced last week, when Analog Devices showed a combined facsimile-data modem chip set which uses Digicom System’s software to give V32bis and Group III facsimile protocols.

VCOS

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The whole lot will cost $25 in quantity, says the company, although it neglects to say which quantities. Last, but not least, is AT&T which has come up with the combination of its WE3210 signal processor chip, a real-time operating system called VCOS and a software library that includes routines for, yes you guessed it, speech recognition, Joint Photographic Experts Group image compression, audio coding and facsimile/modem operation. Boards are available for both Mac and personal computers, which in bulk, cost around #50 a piece.

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