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$6 quad core SoC targets low cost 4K set-top boxes

Dec 8, 2014 — by Eric Brown 9,441 views

[Updated Dec 10] — Allwinner unveiled a $6 “H3” SoC targeting $35 to $50 OTT STBs, featuring four Cortex-A7 cores, a Mali-400 GPU, 4K HDMI output, and 5MP camera support.

For years, Allwinner Technology has been riding the Cortex-A7 architecture to success in its Android- and Linux-ready system-on-chips. Now, as the company prepares to move to its 64-bit, ARMv8 H64 quad-core SoC in early 2015, it is going back to the Cortex-A7 at least one more time with a new H3 chip.

The quad-core H3 is designed for affordable 4K OTT set-top boxes (STBs), especially in its home turf of China, and sells for only $6 in volume. The targeted devices are so-called “OTT” (over-the-top) STBs, which differ from traditional STBs in that they offer Internet access, and differ from streaming media players in that they add broadcast and cable TV services and feature content protection.

Allwinner H3 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

No clock rate was listed for the H3’s four Cortex-A7 cores. However, the device supports H.265/H.264 4K hardware acceleration at up to 30fps, as well as 4K video point-to-point HDMI output, says Allwinner. According to an email from an Allwinner rep, “the standard SDK’s operating system will be Android, but it also can be Linux or other OSs depends on our customers’ requirements.” Additionally, the company’s website currently touts Android 5.0 (aka “Lollipop”) as “coming soon to Allwinner processor-based devices.”

Allwinner’s Lollipop promise
(click image to enlarge)

The H3 follows in a line of previous Cortex-A7 SoCs including the dual-core Allwinner A20 and quad-core A31, which have found their way into numerous Android tablets and media players, as well as a number of Linux- and Android community-based SBCs. This year we saw the UltraOctaA80 (A80), in which four –A7 cores share the billing with four –A15 cores. There was also the tablet-oriented A83T, in which the -A15 cores were cast out in favor of eight -A7 cores.


The A83T was announced in October along with a similar H8 version that was instead targeted at OTT set-tops and high-end gaming devices. The 28nm fabricated A83T and H8 were set to ship this month. Both SoCs run at up to 2.0GHz and provide Big.Little task-sharingwith heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP). While earlier Allwinner processors have integrated ARM Mali 400 graphics, the A83T features a PowerVR Series 5 GPU, and the H8 more specifically offers the 700MHz PowerVR SGX544 Series 5.

Allwinner H3

For the H3, Allwinner returns to the more hacker-friendly, but less powerful, 600MHz Mali-400. The combined processing power is still enough to decode 4K video. Whereas the H8 is aimed at $50 to $80 STBs, the $6 H3 will show up in $35 to $50 STBs, says Allwinner.

The H3 supports a variety of DDR3 memories, including 64-bit ECC, and supports flash technologies including eMMC. In addition to the HDMI interface, you get an audio codec, as well as support for CVBS, 10/100 Ethernet with PHY, and four USB 2.0 ports.

The H3 provides camera and video capture support, with USB cameras supporting up to 720 video calls, and 5-megapixel CSI cameras going to 1080p, both at 30fps. Allwinner also integrates its SmartColor display technology.

The H3 SoC integrates the Trustzone-based t-Coffer security system, which offers security features like Root-of-Trust, secure boot, and secure storage. T-Coffer also supports HDCP, as well as multiple DRM solutions including Google Widevine L1, Microsoft Play Ready, and Marlin, says the company.

Further information

The first smart OTT box sporting Allwinner H3 is slated to hit the market later this month, says Allwinner. More information on the H3 may be found on the Allwinner H3 product page.

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One response to “$6 quad core SoC targets low cost 4K set-top boxes”

  1. Bob H says:

    Nice but 4k p30 isn’t anything like real 4k.

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