Acorn set-top technology uses StrongARM tactics

Acorn set-top technology uses StrongARM tactics
Steve Bush Acorn has demonstrated a set-top box executing in software MPEG-2 video decompression. What until now has required dedicated hardware is being done on Intel’s StrongArm 1500 processor. “The advantage of software decode is that the set-top box can deal with any middleware standard without hardware upgrades,” said Andy Mee, VP of marketing and business development at Acorn. Middleware, according to Mee, is usually implemented in hardware. Already British Digital Broadcasting and BskyB have chosen different middleware standards (Media Highway and OpenTV respectively). Acorn’s design can handle the two standards in software, avoiding duplicate hardware. Software decode also has the advantage that decoders for emerging standards can be downloaded, avoiding the need to change the box. The StrongArm-based box was developed in conjunction with Digital Semiconductor – part of Intel since last week – for use with the next generation of interactive and multi-sourced TV services. “The generation of digital TV set-top boxes just coming on the market have very little capacity for interactive services. For instance, they cannot implement hot-links and other PC-like functions,” said Mee. “Selectability is also limited. No current set-top box has the capacity to accept programme material from a choice of sources like terrestrial, satellite, the Internet or a telecom operator for instance.” Acorn is showing its design as a technology demonstrator and is looking for customers among consumer electronic companies developing ‘phase 2’ set-top boxes. The StrongArm 1500 was developed by Digital for set-top box use (see Electronics Weekly, February 11, p3). It has an on-chip DSP and, in this case, operates with a 1501 companion chip which handles peripheral communications. Acorn’s design can handle: “Two 2Mbit/s MPEG-2 data streams and still have spare for graphics overlays, or one 15Mbit/s stream with enough left for a video conference,” said Mee.


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