New LSI Logic media process architecture positioned for future

LSI Logic has announced a new media processing architecture to address next-generation video demands, including those of the consumer and broadcast markets.

The Domino[x] architecture offers transcoding between MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC H.264 and VC-1, and vice versa, as well as encode and decode of HD and SD.

According to the company, media processors based on the new architecture for consumer products will be affordable, significantly lowering the price tag the public pays for HD-DVD and Blu-ray recorders. On the professional side, it will power transcoders needed to maximize infrastructure investment in MPEG-2 equipment.

HD Technology Update spoke with Neil Bullock, senior strategic marketing manager, LSI Logic Consumer Products Group, to get the details.

HD Technology Update: LSI just announced its latest generation architecture for DVD recorders — the Domino[x] architecture. What are the major advancements embodied in this generation versus the previous Domino5 architecture?

Neil Bullock: Domino[X] is the next-generation multiformat, multistream media processing architecture from LSI Logic, and it is addressing the many transitions taking place within the broadcast and consumer electronics industries.

First of all, you have the transition from standard definition to high definition, which is well underway. Accompanying that is the migration to the next generation codecs — from MPEG-2 to H.264 and VC-1. We also see the industry moving beyond the broadcast chain to what consumers are going to do with the content once it arrives in their living rooms. Increasingly, we expect consumers will want to move content beyond the living room — whether it’s archiving content onto a DVD disk or moving it onto portable devices or distributing it across a network for viewing in another location – all of these scenarios require transcoding, which is the ability to go backwards and forwards between the source or broadcast format, and the format that’s used on the target device or medium.

The Domino[X] architecture addresses all of these transcoding requirements, and where content is protected by content owners, Domino[X] also provides the capability to go between the content protection mechanisms — from the beginning of the broadcast chain through to the final device or medium.

The architecture is oriented toward a number of different segments, and it will address SD and HD for professional broadcast infrastructure applications, set-top box applications, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD player/recorder applications, as well as DVD recorders. So, this is an architectural launch, and there will be a number of different chip-level products spun off the architecture over time to address the individual product segments.

HDTU: What provisions have you made for the emerging HD-DVD and Blu-ray market?

NB: Both HD-DVD and Blu-ray represent the transition from standard definition to high definition and the use of the advanced codecs, but they are also significantly more complex than what the industry is familiar with in the DVD world. In terms of the complexity of audio processing, it can be as extreme as multichannel, 7.1 channel primary audio decode with secondary stereo audio decode and sound effects all mixed together followed by multichannel encode for distribution over S/PDIF to an AV receiver. There’s also the need to integrate quite complex interactive applications with the content on the disk. There are JAVA programs in the case of Blu-ray, and IHD applications in the HD-DVD domain. So, there’s quite sophisticated application processing within the application processor in the Domino[X] architecture. There are also complex security requirements. So, the transition to the high-definition formats, such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray, require enhancements in all of those areas. The Domino[X] architecture has been designed with all of those requirements in mind.

HDTU: How do you anticipate it will impact the battle between the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps?

NB: Blu-ray and HD-DVD are going to fight it out in the market, and it’s going to be very difficult to call the eventual winner or if there will be an eventual winner. Of course, there’s a third course that both survive and there are universal players on the market. We’re agnostic with respect to the formats, and I think the contribution we’re going to make is that we’ll be able to deliver cost-effective solutions for both types of products, and that ultimately will spur consumer adoption once we get down to the price points that they’re comfortable with.

At the moment, we are talking about products that range from $500 to $600 at the low end, right up to $1500. Consumer price points, where they start to feel comfortable with this type of product, are in the $200 to $300 range, particularly in the United States. The LSI Domino[X] architecture will play a significant part in delivering a cost-effective solution that allows our customers to get these types of products down into that type of price range.

HDTU: The architecture also features transcoding capabilities. Do you believe it will show up in transcoders used in the professional market?

NB: The broadcasters and the content owners invested a lot in equipment as they made the transition from analog to digital, so there is a significant amount of equipment that is based on MPEG-2 technology. We are starting to see the advanced codecs being introduced where they can have a significant impact on distribution costs. So, we are starting to see H.264 being introduced on satellite links. Given the investment in the infrastructure on the MPEG-2 side and the need to get to H.264 for distribution, there’s a need to transcode between those two different formats while maintaining the highest quality possible in order to distribute the content.

Then, at the other end, there may be a need to transcode back into MPEG-2, for example, if you are in the cable headend and the legacy cable network supports MPEG-2, there’s a need to transcode from H.264 to MPEG-2. That need is in both standard definition and high definition, particularly in the North American market where high definition is well advanced. The Domino[X] architecture supports the transcoding between MPEG-2 and H.264 in both directions at high definition, and therefore supports that particular requirement on the infrastructure side.

HDTU: When will it be available, and when might it begin showing up in consumer and/or professional products?

NB: We expect to announce professional products based on the architecture in the first half of next year, with customer productions sometime in the second half of 2007. We don’t dictate the actual production time for our customers, but that’s what we are estimating for the professional products.

For the consumer electronics products, because the development lead-time is so much longer, we expect product announcements to be late 2007 or early 2008, typically around the CES trade show, with customer introductions in late 2008 or early 2009.

HDTU: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the architecture?

NB: We believe we are unique in our ability to deliver transcoding — this ability to go backwards and forwards between different formats efficiently and cost effectively. Our competition typically tackles the broadcast domain or the consumer electronics domain, but we have developed an architecture that’s suitable for both. Historically, we’ve developed capabilities in the broadcast domain and then we’ve brought them, at the right time and at the right price points, to consumer electronics; we’re doing the same with the Domino[X] architecture. We see strong consumer demand for the ability to take content beyond the living room and get it onto portable devices and DVD, or get it across home networks. On the service operator side, we see their need to go beyond distributing broadcast television — which is no longer a differentiator between the operators — and be able to offer these other services to consumers that make them more sticky. We believe we have a unique technology capability that serves both what consumers want to do with the content and what service operators want to offer to them.

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