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Set-top box SoCs move up to Cortex-A9, UltraHD, HEVC

Sep 12, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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STMicroelectronics (ST), ViXS, and Sigma Designs have each announced new Linux-friendly system-on-chips for IPTV set-top boxes (STBs) incorporating dual Cortex-A9 cores. Some of ST’s STLinux-based “Cannes” and “Monaco” SoCs, as well as ViXS’s XCode 6400 SoC, support UltraHD video and streaming HEVC HD content, while Sigma’s SMP8734 supports Linux or Android on hybrid STBs and media players.

ARM has always been a player in the STB market, but lately it appears to be gaining ground on more established MIPS- and RISC-based designs. The latest SoCs are jumping on the Cortex-A9 bandwagon to offer better support for 3D TV, new standards, higher resolutions, and more I/O options.

The new set-top SoCs were announced in conjunction with the first day of the IBC 2013 media technology show in Amsterdam. ST offered the most detail on its six new processors, which are set to begin sampling in the fourth quarter, while ViXS and Sigma Designs offered broader descriptions, but without product backing them up.

Two of ST’s SoCs — the STiH312 and the STiH412 — as well as the ViXS XCode 6400, offer support for both 4K UltraHD resolution (2160p) and HEVC (H.265) video decoding. HEVC is said to allow the transmission of HD content using half the bandwidth of today’s AVC (H.264) video streams, and a quarter of the bandwidth of MPEG-2, with no degradation in video quality.
 

ST STiH3xx and 4xx

ST’s six new SoCs join a stable of almost two dozen of the company’s STB and HDTV SoCs. Most of its previous STB and home automation SoCs run Linux on its Renesas SH-4 based ST40 RISC processors. Benefits of moving to ARM include the ability to move up to gigabit Ethernet instead of Fast Ethernet.

The Cannes and Monaco SoCs follow on the “Orly” family, which were the first models to switch to ARM Cortex-A9. The Cannes STiH3xx follows in the path of the STiH315, and the Monaco STiH4xx models follow the previously released STiH407. They all ship with STLinux SDKs, and support RDK (Reference Design Kit), Google TV, HTML5, and “established middleware,” says ST.



STLinux stack diagram
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Cannes STiH3xx family is designed for consumer IPTV STBs while the Monaco STiH4xx are intended for “server-type applications such as home gateways,” says ST. The Monaco STiH412, STiH410, and STiH407 SoCs incorporate ST’s Faroudja Transcode Engine, which provides transcoding “for multi-screen experiences across consumer and handheld devices,” says the company.

Of the six new SoCs, only the STiH312 and STiH412 support UltraHD. All the Cannes SoCs support 3D video and HEVC, but it is only the STiH312 that is touted for the ability to stream UltraHD content over lower-speed broadband connections using HEVC. The combination “increases the number of households accessing very high-quality content while reducing delivery costs for service providers,” says ST.



STiH3xx/4xx block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Cannes STiH312, STiH310, and STiH305 processors are equipped with dual 1.5GHz Cortex-A9 cores, as well as Mali-400 MP GPUs. They integrate hardware video encoders with pre-processing, plus Faroudja-enhanced video processing, says ST.

Other touted features include DDR3 and SD memory (amounts not stated), as well as PCI-Express interfaces for supporting peripherals including WiFi and smart cards. All three offer HDMI, A/V outputs, gigabit Ethernet, 6Gbit/s Gen 3 eSATA, as well as USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. There are minor differences in interfaces, with the STiH312 model offering three USB ports, for example, while the others provide two. Additional features are said to include low-power modes, and a “security toolbox for premium content delivery.”

All six Cannes and Monaco devices share a single ball-out, and will sample to lead customers in Q4 2013, says ST. More information may be found in product page links at the end of this table of ST media processors.
 

ViXS XCode 6400

Like the STiH312, the ViXS XCode 6400 is a dual-core Cortex-A9 SoC that supports UltraHD and HEVC standards, but it’s aimed at a broader audience, ranging from pay TV STBs to media players. There is no specific mention of Linux, but a separate XCode 4219 Android SDK suggests that the product is based on an XCode SDK that runs Linux.



ViXS video processing technology
(click image to enlarge)

 

The XCode 6400′s Ultra HD 4K support is said to be based on its 10-bit ITU Rec.2020 4Kx2K UHDTV color space specification and circuitry supporting the latest HEVC main 10 profile (M10P) requirements. The SoC can decode HEVC UHDTV 4K broadcasting content at 3840 x 2160 at 60 frames per second (fps) in M10P, claims ViXS. Like its other XCode SoCs, the 6400 model incorporates the company’s XCode media-processing core for offloading real-time functions such as transcoding, video streaming, audio processing and content place shifting.

Key features of the XCode 6400 are said to include:

  • Dual-core Cortex-A9 with 7,000 DMIPS performance
  • XCode media off-loading processor farm with cumulative 8,400 DMIPS
  • Decoding HDTV and Ultra HDTV HEVC at main, and main 10 profile at up to 4Kp60
  • Up to 10x HD decodes
  • Up to 6x 720p30 or 4x 1080p30 HD transcodes
  • Up to 6x simultaneous video streams to mobile devices
  • Multi-format HD decoding engine support for all popular Internet video formats
  • XConnex MoCA 2.0 support with backward compatibility to MoCA 1.1
  • Hardware-based security, including memory scrubbing and sandboxing, with support for the latest conditional access and digital rights management (DRM) specs
  • 3D OpenGL ES 2.0 hardware graphics engine
  • Optimized DDR3 platform memory
  • 40nm process and flip-chip package with advanced power management featuring active and passive standby
  • ViXS Xtensiv software with support for DLNA and third-party middleware stacks

Customer samples of the XCode 6400 family will be available in Q4 2013, with volume production commencing in Q2 2014, says ViXS. More information should eventually appear on the company’s XCode processor page.
 

Sigma SMP8734

Sigma had the least detail available on its Cortex-A9 STB processor, which it refers to as a chipset. Long known for its MIPS-based STB processors, it is now joining the industry migration toward ARM.

The SMP8734 is said to target hybrid IPTV middleware platforms running Linux, as well as Android STBs. The SoC is said to feature 3D user interfaces, over-the-top services, and casual gaming applications.

The SMP8734 combines a dual-core Cortex-A9 processor running at 6000 DMIPS with an Imagination Technologies SGX-544 GPU, says Sigma. The chipset is said to support multi-format full-HD video decoding, as well as VXP display processing. The processor incorporates managed power consumption technology that supports both U.S. and European standards, and is developed to a minimal R-BOM to allow smaller footprint and lower cost implementations, says the company.

The SMP8734 supports standards including OpenGL ES and HTML-5, as well as a wide range of hardware and software extensions. These are said to include global tuner/demodulator standards, wired and wireless network controllers, and DTV middleware stacks. The chipset also supports IPTV middleware ports, including Wyplay, OpenTV, and Mediaroom, says the company. The SMP8734′s Software Suite includes libraries and services packaged under both Linux and Android development kits, says Sigma.

Sigma Designs will be showcasing the processor for the first time at IBC 2013 in Amsterdam, Sept. 12-17, at Sigma’s booth #BM7 (Hall 1, Balcony). No pricing or availability information was provided. More information should eventually appear at its STB processor page.
 

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