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Octasic Announces New 1080p-Capable DSP Transcoding Series

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A few months ago, while preparing invitations for comparative testing of file-based transcoding solutions, I came across a clockless digital signal processing (DSP) chip manufacturer making some interesting claims. Octasic Semiconductor, a Montreal-based company, claimed a board full of its Vocallo Media Gateway (MGW) DSP chips could handle significant transcoding at fairly low power consumption levels.

"Our single PCI-E board is capable of transcoding 355 channels of Quarter CIF (QCIF) at 15 frames per second," said John Fry, director of sales and business development at Octasic, when the company announced its TXP1000 PCI-E board in May.

The basis for the claims centered on the company's Vocallo multi-core DSP, which it claims can transcode 70 QCIF video channels at one time. Since each MGW chip consumes 1.9 watts maximum power, stacking five of the MGW chips on a single-slot PCI-E board is well within the power budget of a PCI-E slot. Accounting for a bit of overhead, one arrives at the "355 channel" claim.

This week, the company is taking the claim a bit further with its OCT2200 series of DSP solutions, based on the second-generation Octasic DSP, called the Opus2 DSP.  Octasic has released two flavors of the 2200 series, the OCT2224M and OCT2224W, geared toward media gateways and wireless solutions, respectively.

"An OCT2224M device can simultaneously support 2 channels of 1080p while consuming less than 3 watts of power," said Octasic product manager James Awad in a press release. "That means the new chip will do 3 times the capacity of our first-generation DSP solutions, while increasing power only by 50% over the first-generation version."

While the ability to do 1080p transcoding without additional hardware acceleration on the MGW version, the OCT2224M, will turn heads, the true power of the module shows through in its ability to transcode hundreds of voice and lower-resolution video channels. While the old Vocallo chipset cores ran at 1.2 GHz and were capable of converting 480 voice channels, the newer DSPs can do 800 voice channels per 24-core DSP, yet still only require 3 watts of power. In other words, they offer slightly under twice the capacity with just over 50% additional power.

Extrapolating the solution against the TXP1000 cards announced in May, Octasic could keep the same power budget but would only need three OCT2224M, rather than five Vocallo chips, to convert the same number of voice channels. In addition, the OCT2224M provides support for all popular video codecs, including MPEG-2, H.264, VC-1, and VP8 for streaming, as well as H.263 for videoconferencing.

Keeping the power budget in line is key to Octasic's other Opus2-based DSP solution, the wireless-focused OCT2224W solution.

"In the baseband arena, power is everything," says Awad. "In emerging markets, especially in remote locations, the decision is a based on whether a chip or group of chips can run off a solar panel. We find that some solutions providers previously needed half-a-dozen chips to implement a picocell or small base station solution and couldn't do it with the solar panel, but our low-powered DSP-based solutions make it possible."

The emerging markets are also primarily driven by a need for lower operating expense (opex) levels, so while the OCT2224W will support WiMAX and LTE, Awad sees a sizeable continued market interest in GSM and even 3GPP-based video delivery. In emerging markets, constrained opex and lower average revenue per user (ARPU) are reasons why the company emphasizes QCIF video transcoding alongside the ability to transcode HD video content.

"Utopia is covering all standards at all capacities," said Awad. "It may be a pipe dream, but we've been able to move closer to that goal in two ways: first, by removing all the circuitry that consumers power but doesn't add to the processing. Second, by allowing more programming within the DSP itself, making the end solution flexible with software programming rather than relying on hard-coded hardware as the primary approach." 

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