Meta physics cuts the cost of digital media

A new UK-developed microprocessor technology aims to speed up the launch of mass-market digital televisions and radios.

Imagination Technologies’ Meta processor core – which made its debut at this week’s CeBIT show – will make it possible to create highly-integrated digital processors at low cost.

Imagination has licensed the technology to Frontier Silicon, a new UK semiconductor firm which plans to begin shipping processors for digital radios within the next few weeks.

Meta, as used in Frontier Silicon’s Chorus FS1010 multithreaded DSP processor, is being demonstrated at the show decoding digital audio streams, including DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast).

The FS1010 processor is already being used by UK consumer electronics brand Goodmans, which will produce a range of digital radios retailing at less than £100 and by VideoLogic, which will use the processor for a range of DAB, home cinema and digital audio products.

The Frontier Silicon Chorus FS1010 itself is a DSP processor chip, which integrates all the necessary functionality and interfaces for a range of consumer systems on one device. An application suite from Imagination Technologies’ Ensigma Technologies division enables Meta processors to provide a range of functionality including DAB, portable (MP3, AAC) and surround sound, (DTS, Dolby Digital) audio.

Frontier Silicon’s Chorus FS1010 is claimed to be the first processor to utilise the Meta multi-threaded DSP core and DAB technologies developed by Imagination Technologies’ Metagence and Ensigma Technologies divisions.

The Meta processor architecture provides multiple real-time programming contexts (threads) that can operate independently and concurrently. The critical advantage of the Meta architecture is that it makes it possible to run several real-time tasks, as well as general purpose functions, on a single processor, rather than resorting to multi-DSP plus micro-controller solutions.

Frontier is also developing a Meta-based digital TV chip under the working name of Logie which it plans to launch in the second half of 2002. Logie is aimed at the emerging market for free-to-air digital terrestrial broadcasting served by channels such as ITV2 and BBC4.

UK set-top box giant Pace recently targeted the same sector when it announced the launch of a low-cost ‘converter’ that can enable any set to receive free-to-air digital programmes. The UK government is keen to encourage mass adoption of digital sets by consumers ahead of a planned switch-off of the analogue frequencies.