Texas Instruments Provides Code Enhancements for DaVinci

On June 5, Texas Instruments announced the DaVinci Technology Development Kit, a software update to its DaVinci technology. DaVinci combines TI Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) and an enhanced software platform. The aim of this System-on-Chip (SoC), which combines several previously discrete technologies, is to allow TI customers the ability to rapidly integrate digital audio and video solutions. The secondary aim is to help those potential TI customers who have seen the appeal of DSPs over traditional CPUs—smaller form factors, less peripheral code—but have been frightened off by the complexity of creating code for or porting an existing application to a DSP.

While TI has been involved in video encoding and transmission for several years, the initial release of the DaVinci technology platform in mid-2005, coupled with this most recent announcement, strengthens TI’s position in driving a total technology package versus just one particular chip.

"We took advantage of TI’s new software development kit and DaVinci technology to shave more than three months off of our expected development time," said Upendra Patel, chief technology officer, eInfochips. "The complete package consisting of multimedia codecs, MontaVista Linux and framework components with DaVinci technology enables us to deliver high performance and feature-rich solutions addressing the needs of target market segments."

Even when the initial DaVinci technology platform was released, it required customers to "roll their own" in terms of codec licensing, Linux distributions, and DSP analysis. The new development kit addresses the needs of existing and potential TI customers by bundling a codec package as well as a customized Linux distribution.

During NAB 2006, I met with Henry Wiechman, TI’s business manager for streaming media, to discuss TI’s impetus to release the DaVinci technology, as well as additional details about Monday’s announcement.

"We see video, and especially streaming media, as a major growth area," said Wiechman, "much the same was we saw a significant growth opportunity in the mobile phone industry a few years ago. Video, including IPTV, places demands on developers that have, in the past, increased the need for development teams to learn a significant amount about DSPs in order to manually integrate their software packages on our DSPs."

To address the learning curve, TI’s DaVinci development kit includes a new tool called the XpressDSP Configuration Kit that allows developers to avoid manual integration by focusing instead on software modules. These modules can be combined together into a single executable output for the system. This means that code reuse is now possible for the TI DSPs that make up the DaVinci technology package. In practical terms, this means that bundles of software codecs can also be created, allowing developers to bundle specific codec bundles without having to custom code each codec’s use in each scenario for a development team’s streaming media product.

"TI also understands the need for development teams to have access to a variety of codecs," said Wiechman, "so we’re bundling our own video, imaging, speech and audio codecs with the new development kit. We are also providing access to custom codecs that comply with our codec engine framework. We’ve done the heavy lifting that not only helps the software development team but also provides our customers’ business development and executive teams with an business model that simplifies licensing and shortens time to market."

Alain Molinie, chief executive officer of Awox, who is rolling out a set-top box based on the MonteVista distribution, TI’s DM644x DSP processors and an ARM processor, agrees.

"The MontaVista Linux distribution allows for rapid development and reduced time to market," said Molinie. "The [DSP] processor enables multiple applications on a single hardware device, limits the need for extensive glue logic, and is tailored specifically for digital video applications. The combination provides a full software process for encoding and decoding multimedia files."

Besides TI’s own codecs and access to custom codecs that comply to TI’s DSP/BIOS real-time kernel, TI’s inclusion of the MonteVista Linux distribution allows development teams to integrate features on complementary TI chipsets that aren’t possible on the DSPs. This was demonstrated at the NAB 2006 meeting when TI showed several set-top boxes that used both ARM processors and DSPs, aided by an inter-processor communications technology TI is also bundling with the DaVinci Development Kit. TI’s DM644x SoC Analyzer captures and graphically displays system interaction, load distribution, bottlenecks in data throughput, and other types of behavior. Since TI’s TMS320 series of processors house both DSP and ARM cores, the SoC Analyzer integrates data analysis on a single timeline for a complete system view of the application.

Available in Q3 2006, the new technology kit will offer aggressive introductory pricing for developers who are already invested in TI development tools. With an eye on customers who might have been focused on streaming media applications for traditional CPU processors but uncertain about their ability to get into DSP technology designs, TI is also providing aggressive pricing on its integrated development environment, as well as access to a digital video evaluation module.

"TI aims to provide an end-to-end solution," said Wiechman, "in which every device–whether it’s portable, a set-top box, an encoding solution, or even a mobile phone, uses TI technologies. More importantly, we aim to provide a way for video ingested on one TI chipset to be seamlessly passed from device to device. The DaVinci technology platform is key to implementing this vision for our customers, whether it’s ARM, OMAP, or DSP chipsets."

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