Digital Shutterbugs turned into Multi-Media Mavens

Once again proving that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing with a digital signal processor (DSP), Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) has introduced a fully programmable DSP-based solution that transforms cameras into multi-media Internet appliances.

The new solution, the TMS320DSC21 chip, draws upon the performance of DSPs to enhance the digital still camera’s functionality. In addition to capturing high-resolution still photos with a fast shot-to-shot delay, cameras with TI technology will be able to record video clips with audio, and download and play music from the Internet.

The chip supports the broadest offering of popular digital audio and video formats including real-time MPEG1, MPEG4, JPEG, MJPEG, H.263 and MP3, as well as data communication standards such as IrDA, USB, and RS-232.

Consumers will be able to add advanced features to their digital cameras by downloading and installing the latest software from the manufacturer’s Website. This upgradeable functionality will enable extended features in the future that may not have been installed on the camera but are already present on the chip, such as a digital audio player.

This level of programmability is also vital to manufacturers who can use a single image processing engine, the TMS320DSC21 chip, to develop an entire family of digital still cameras from entry-level models to advanced designs.

The programmability of the DSC21 allows manufacturers to keep up with changing standards and continuously realize their innovations in image quality by optimizing software. These capabilities are unique to a programmable DSP-based solution, in which camera functions are enabled in software and can be easily changed.

In contrast, a hardware-based solution requires a new application-specific device to be created each time modifications or enhancements are made. This flexibility translates into greatly reduced development time and costs while enabling broad product differentiation: all crucial elements to success in a growth industry.

‘The digital still camera market is expected to grow at a compound average growth rate of 44.6% between 1999 to 2004,’ said Ron Glaz, market analyst at IDC. ‘Given the introduction of a fully programmable DSP-based solution demonstrating multiple functions, TI is directing the market to diversify and expand into new directions of video and audio.’

TI expects applications for the new chip to continue to evolve. The chip’s future roadmap includes support of advanced image processing in other end equipment areas, including scanners, personal digital assistants (PDAs), wireless devices, digital video camcorders and photo printers.

The TMS320DSC21 is a digital still camera system on a single chip that combines a TMS320C5000 DSP and an ARM7TDMI RISC processor to perform the media processing and system control functions. The chip integrates a video encoder with on-screen display, SDRAM controller with a bandwidth transfer rate of 320 Mb/sec., a preview engine that performs 30 frame-per-second NTSC and PAL previewing, and can also achieve real time frame capture in burst mode to the full resolution of the 2 Mpixel image sensor.

Samples of the DSC21 are available today and production devices are expected to be available Q42000. Price in quantities of 100,000 pieces or more is expected to be less than $15.