Marvell unveiled a more secure, graphics-rich Armada 1500 Plus SoC for Android 4.2.2 smart TVs “with Google services,” but never mentioned Google TV.
Welcome to the post Google TV world. Although Marvell’s Armada 1500 system-on-chip (SoC) was the official SoC for Google TV 2.0 set-tops and smart TVs, the chipmaker makes no mention of Google TV in this week’s announcement of its Armada 1500 Plus. Instead, the upgraded SoC, which features improved graphics and an enhanced security engine, “enables service providers the confidence to deploy Smart TVs with Google services with greater content protection.” (See farther below for more on Google TV rebranding.)
Hisense will be the first to offer the Armada 1500 Plus in a new smart TV with Google services. The company had no details except to say the TV would ship worldwide, starting later this month in the U.S. The company has previously released a Google TV 2.0 based Hisense Pulse media player.
Marvell Armada 1500 Plus block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
The Armada 1500 Plus SoC supports the promised new version of Google TV, which moves from the almost universally shunned Android 3.2 (“Honeycomb”) to a more modern Android 4.2 (“Jelly Bean”) build. The move to Jelly Bean will let Google TV developers use the same APIs as do mobile developers, with an aim toward boosting the numbers of Android apps available on Google-enhanced smart TVs and media players.
One thing that is not changing in the rebranded Google TV is Google’s choice of the Marvell Armada 1500 as its recommended SoC. The Armada 1500 Plus boosts graphics and improves security compared to the 1500, which replaced the Intel Atom SoCs found in the original Google TV devices. As with the Armada 375 networking SoC released earlier this year, Marvell has switched from its own custom interpretation of Cortex-A9, to licensing the -A9 design directly from ARM. The SoC ships with SDKs for Android 4.2.2 and Linux.
Armada 1500 Plus in a typical STB implementation
(click image to enlarge)
No clock speed is listed for the dual Cortex-A9 cores, so we’ll presume Marvell is staying with 1.2GHz. The main processor cores are matched with Marvell’s Vmeta video codec and an upgraded Vivante GC1000 GPU. The GPU offers OpenGL ES 2.0 compatibility, among other enhancements.
The video/audio codec subsystem supports either dual-decode or “one encode, one decode” of formats including 1080p H.264, VC-1, MPEG2, AVS, and VP8, says Marvell. It also enables decode/encode of audio formats including HE-AACv2, Dolby HD, DTS-HD, and SRS. In addition, Marvell’s Qdeo video post-processing pipeline adds picture quality (PQ) enhancements, says the company.
HDMI pass-through and gigabit Ethernet
The Armada 1500 Plus still supports HDMI v1.4a output, but now adds multiple transport stream inputs for HDMI pass-through, a feature offered on the new Xbox One game console. As a result, it turns smart TVs, set-top boxes (STBs), and media players into “multi-screen source devices,” says Marvell.
Additional features include dual-channel LVDS output and CVBS/component analog video output with I2S and S/PDIF I/O. The SoC is said to fully support both broadcast (DVB-T,C,S) and IP content deployment in hybrid set-tops.
The big news on the peripheral side is the SoC’s new support for gigabit Ethernet (RGMII) in addition to the earlier Fast Ethernet. The chip also offers support for a SATA 2.0 host port, dual USB 2.0 host ports, and dual SDIO 3.0 controllers. In addition to supporting NAND flash, eMMC is part of the mix as well.
Google backs away from Google TV
Bravia Smart Stick
The transition away from Google TV branding began in September when Sony, Google’s most stalwart partner for its struggling, Android-based Google TV, announced a new Bravia Smart Stick media player “with Google services” without once mentioning Google TV. The Smart Stick was tipped earlier that month in FCC test documents along with several other Sony devices with Google services, but without the Google TV name.
The trend was confirmed by several unnamed Google TV partners in an October report by GigaOM entitled “Google to sunset Google TV brand as its smart TV platform merges with Android.” According to GigaOM’s sources, the new name would be “Android TV,” although so far, as it noted, Google TV partners such as STMicroelectronics and LG were publicly referring to upcoming devices as offering “the latest Google services for TV.”
Marvell uses similar wording, but also slipped in an Android TV reference in the datasheet. By the CES show in January, we should see more device announcements and discover whether the “Google services” branding will stick, or if Google will move to Android TV or something else.
The transition involves more than just a new Jelly Bean build and a name change, says GigaOM. Google is also said to be backing away from hardware requirements, for example no longer insisting on a keyboard. It appears that Google will even permit devices to omit one of Google TV’s main differentiators compared to most Android media player stacks: integrating live TV with IP services.
Google was motivated to make the transition now that Android-based media players and smart TVs have eclipsed Google TV sales. In particular, the success of its own Android-based, non Google TV Chromecast media player has changed Google’s strategy.
Yet, the $35 Chromecast is also facing greater competition, not only among other cut-rate, no-name dongles, but among more feature-rich Android-based TV devices, including the Plair. Now, Google faces new crowdfunded competition from efforts like BiggiFi and Airtame.
“I am very pleased to see the leadership of Google and the progress and effort in achieving this major milestone for the development of Smart TVs with Google services,” stated Weili Dai, President and Co-Founder of Marvell. “Marvell is proud to team up with Google and ecosystem partners in driving the latest version of Smart TV.”
“Working closely with Marvell has been a key part of bringing Google services to consumers through TV,” stated Vincent Dureau, Head of TV Technology, Google. “We look forward to Marvell partners like Hisense launching new devices with Google services built-in.”
The Marvell Armada 1500 Plus (model 88DE3108) appears to be available now. More information may be found at Marvell’s Armada 1500 Plus product page.