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ARM and Trident link up on Cortex-A9 STB design

Sep 14, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 8 views

ARM and set-box semiconductor vendor Trident Microsystems say they have developed an Android-ready, HTML5-savvy IP-STB reference design that builds upon a Trident SoC equipped with the dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor. Meanwhile, the BBC-backed Project Canvas partnership, which aims to build an open internet-connected TV platform, released specs and announced 40 supporters for its Linux based STB design.

Intel might be showing off set-top boxes running its Atom CE4100 system-on-chip (SoC) this week at IDF, including Google TV devices, but the bulk of the TV and STB market resides on other processor platforms. Last week at the IBC entertainment and media show in Amsterdam, ARM aimed to push forward the high end of the ARM-based STB market by announcing a partnership with STB SoC and component vendor Trident Microsystems.

The partners say they have have jointly developed an STB reference design based on ARM's dual-core Cortex-A9 processor. Trident, which claims to be the third largest semiconductor vendor for STBs and TVs, has optimized its ARM-based, "broadcast integrated" 45nm SoC family for the Cortex-A9, says the partners.

The new platform will enable consumers to "seamlessly view TV programming, run rich internet applications, browse websites, and share content anytime and anywhere in the home," say the companies.

A current Trident STB reference design

The reference platform builds upon Trident's existing STB and TV reference designs (see image above) which the company acquired in February from NXP's BU Home division. These existing platforms combine a variety of ARM-based SoCs — including 45nm-fabricated designs — with Trident's assortment of decoders, demodulators, and other broadcast chips and components.

The new Cortex-A9-based platform supports Android, and its ARM Native Development Kit (NDK), as well as Android's ARM-targeted JIT, as part of the Dalvik Java application framework, say the partners. Support for the Adobe Flash Player 10.1 web plugin for Android is also said to be available. Adobe Systems says it is working with ARM and Trident to optimize the ARM JIT performance for ActionScript 3.0 which is used in the Adobe Flash Platform for the Digital Home.

Other forms of Linux are supported as well, with the help of the not-for profit firm Linaro, which is chartered to develop standardized open source software and tools for ARM Cortex processors. Linaro is said to be focusing on "the lower software layers" of the platform, providing "the best tools and Linux development experience on ARM, quickening the time to market for Linux," say the partners.

The STB platform is said to support HTML5 and other Web 2.0 standards. It also includes Nokia's Qt cross-platform development toolkit, including the Qt version of Webkit, say the companies. The partners also note that "Qt is also the development framework for MeeGo, and the ARM partnership has already done significant work on this platform around the ARM Cortex-A9 processor."

So far, the Intel and Nokia-backed MeeGo Linux project has released reference platforms for netbooks, handhelds, and In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) computers. Yet, a "connected TV" platform is also said to be in the works.

The IVI category for the Moblin- and Maemo-Linux based distribution is said to include IP-enabled TVs, IP set-top box (STB), and Blu-ray players. Interestingly, however, MeeGo backer Intel seems more interested, at least for the time being, in supporting the rival Atom- and Android-based Google TV platform.

Stated Tony Francesca, senior vice president and general manager, Trident Set-top Box Business Unit, "By combining an industry-leading STB platform with the powerful Cortex-A Series of processors, Trident and ARM bring the web-based runtime and user interface technologies traditionally found on PCs and mobile phones into the home entertainment system."

Stated Ian Drew, EVP, Marketing, ARM, "The integration of all the key components to enable a robust, internet media experience at home from the comfort of your sofa is a highly visible demonstration of the growing momentum behind the Cortex-A Series of processors in STBs."

Project Canvas pins its hopes on Linux

Project Canvas, one of the most ambitious of the BBC's TV-over-IP projects, announced that its joint specification for an open, Linux-based IPTV and set-top box platform for the U.K. market has so far received support from over 40 organizations. These include manufacturers of set-top-boxes (STBs), internet-enabled TVs, and digital video recorders, says the group.

The first Canvas STBs and related devices will be based on Linux and should ship in 2011, says the group, which is expecting to be incorporated this year as a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Arqiva, and Five.

The group has now released a specification for a standardized STB platform based on Linux, but with the processor architecture currently undefined. The specs were defined in collaboration with the U.K.'s Digital Television Group (DTG).

As with the U.K.'s current free-to-air brands Freeview and Freesat, says the group, a consumer brand will be created, then licensed to device manufacturers and Internet service providers that meet the specifications. These Canvas compliant STBs will be built to a common technical standard, providing "seamless access to a range of third-party services through a common, simple, user experience," says the group.

According to Project Canvas, the group fills a need due to the fact that Freeview and Freesat "have been unable to evolve and keep pace with technical innovation in the consumer electronics industry." Meanwhile, most of the other Internet-connected TV platforms recommended for the U.K. market are closed and proprietary, and would be far from free, says the group.

Project Canvas sets itself up as a happy medium between these alternatives, providing an upgrade for free-to-air TV, as well as an "open platform of scale that will bring a wide range of internet services to the shared screen." The group goes on to state, "The Internet services need to have a commercial relationship with the TV platform to obtain a route to the shared screen."

As Opendotdotdot.blogspot explains the tradeoff in a story on the announcement, the Project Canvas development platform does appear to be surprisingly open, yet the content will still be DRM (digital rights management) protected.

This "means the platform can't really be regarded as totally open," opines the blog. "Obviously, this is not a pure free software project: it's a walled garden with DRM," the blog continues. "But there are still advantages for open source."

The consumer device platform spec, which is just one of the many specifications published by Project Canvas, defines a box with a CPU of at least 700 DMIPS, running Linux 2.6.28. A minimum of 512MB of RAM is required, as is an undefined amount of flash memory, plus a minimum 300GB hard disk drive. The device must support AES128 or Triple DES disk encryption for DRM, says the project.

Other required features are said to include a 10/100 Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port, as well as an HDMI v1.3 port, among other A/V connections. Wi-Fi is said to be optional. AV codec support includes MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 part 10, including an H.264/AVC HP codec, says the group.

Stated Richard Halton, director, Project Canvas, "The response from industry has been phenomenal, and we're really excited by the strong desire to work with Project Canvas to bring internet-enabled set-top-boxes and TVs into people's homes next year."


Neither ARM or Trident Microsystems were clear about the availability of the new Cortex-A9 STB platform, but it appears as if it may be ready now. The Trident Microsystems STB page showing its existing STB reference platforms may be found here.

The first "Canvas" STB devices from Project Canvas should be available in 2011, says the group. The newly posted STB specifications may be found here.

The Opendotdotdot.blogspot story on the release should be here.

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