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Video and Display Technology Get Smarter

Video and Display Technology at the Intersection of Full Multimedia Immersion

The integration of powerful graphics processors on the same die with multicore CPUs is creating the potential for multimedia in embedded applications where it could previously not be considered. And it is also opening the doors to completely new applications.

PETER MANDL, ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES

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Today’s video and display technology designers are afforded more resources and flexibility than ever before to deliver stunning, ultra-immersive HD visual experiences for a wide range of applications and markets. Whether the goal is to entertain, promote, inform, or educate, new processing platforms, interconnect options and industry standards are facilitating a new era of digital display technology. The result promises to transform the way we consume and interact with visual media.

To achieve this, however, designers need to find new ways to harness higher levels of hardware performance without compromising on system form factor, energy efficiency, thermal profiles or reliability requirements—all at the lowest possible cost, and with the fastest time-to-market. Here we’ll explore some of the applications that are driving the pace of digital display innovation, and some of the core enabling technologies that are making this transformation possible.

Applications for Advanced Digital Display Technology

Casino Gaming—Recognizing the compelling entertainment value of immersive multimedia, the casino gaming industry has wholly embraced today’s advanced video and display technologies. Almost every structural and entertainment element within a casino is designed to enthrall guests and entice them to gamble and/or spend their money—no simple feat. Richly interactive, visually driven gaming platforms and eye-catching video displays grab and retain guests’ interest in ways that traditional static gaming platforms and media simply cannot (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The stunning graphics and interactive visual atmosphere of newer casino gaming machines help entertain and distract gamblers at the same time keeping them focused on playing the game.

Military, Aerospace and Defense—Battlefield and avionics simulation are among the most exacting applications for visual display technologies, requiring ultra-realistic 3D image rendering and high-precision target visualization to ensure the best possible combat training and readiness. Military applications such as synthetic vision systems for manned and unmanned aerial vehicles are equipping military personnel to engage combatants more effectively and from a safer distance.

PC and Console Gaming—Hardcore and casual gamers alike are beginning to embrace multi-screen digital displays that deliver a panoramic view of the onscreen action. By grouping multiple monitors into a large integrated display surface, gamers are engulfed in a widescreen “surround sight” field of view that takes gaming to a new level of player immersion and competition.

Hospitality—The travel services industry has enthusiastically embraced digital signage as a means to provide timely, location-aware information that enables travelers to acclimate to unfamiliar environments, explore local attractions, and get the most possible enjoyment from their visits. From hotel and airport kiosks, GPS-assisted in-vehicle signage extends the hospitality experience to the ground transportation network, making travelers better equipped than ever before to travel with confidence from arrival to departure.

Retail and In-store Advertising—The battle for consumer pocketbooks is intensifying in the aisles of retail stores, where the product brands that most effectively attract shoppers’ attention are best positioned to command their spending. By bringing rich multimedia and Internet-enabled interactive displays closer to the point of sale, retailers can tailor their display content to help differentiate products and drives sales. New “smart display” technology, which can incorporate integrated cameras for capturing movement and gestures, promises to make future in-store displays all the more interactive (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Digital signage is a brand new field made possible by high-end computer graphics. Signs can now be targeted at those who happen to be looking at them and can be automatically updated with current information on safety issues, directions and more.

x86 Set-top Boxes (xSTBs)—The advent of IP network-delivered media content has opened the door to a new breed of set-top boxes that utilize the x86 architecture to realize a seamless fusion of TV, PC and Internet capabilities. By combining low-power x86-compatible computing capabilities with high-performance graphics processing, set-top box manufacturers are empowered to transform the TV viewing experience from passive to fully interactive, thereby, establishing the set-top box as the “total access” hub to the modern digital home.

These are just a few of the applications to which system designers are bringing state-of-the-art digital display technology to bear in pursuit of richer, more immersive visual experiences. Now let’s look at some of the core enabling embedded technologies.

Accelerated Processing Units and Unified Video Decoding

Few embedded technologies offer more potential to transform the digital display market than AMD’s Accelerated Processing Units (APUs), as exemplified by the AMD Embedded G-Series processors. Utilizing AMD Fusion technology, the AMD Embedded G-Series processors integrate low-power, general purpose CPU core(s) and a discrete-level GPU onto a single die, all interconnected by a high-speed bus architecture and shared, low-latency memory model (Figure 3). Enabling heterogeneous processing where serial software tasks execute on the CPU and parallel tasks on the GPU, APUs yield significant performance acceleration for multimedia display applications, which opens up new application opportunities.

Figure 3
The AMD Fusion G Series pairs an SIMD engine that can do both graphics or numerically intensive algorithms with a multicore x86 CPU for compelling single-chip multimedia performance.

This integration of general purpose, programmable scalar and vector processor cores for high-speed parallel processing establishes a new foundation for high-performance multimedia content delivery, while ensuring a host of system design advantages. By reducing the footprint of a traditional three-chip platform to just two chips—the APU and the companion controller hub—design complexity is simplified through a reduction in board layers and power supply needs. This enables digital display designers to achieve aggressive form factor goals while driving down overall system costs.

Additionally, the resulting performance-per-watt benefits assure high power efficiency and low heat dissipation, which in turn can preclude the need for fan cooling within the system. Fan-less designs include fewer moving parts, thus helping to improve overall system reliability. All of these factors enable designers to optimize their systems for extremely compact enclosures and/or applications with power constraints such as mobile, battery-powered signage systems.

As with APU technology, unified video decoding (UVD) is another important mechanism for minimizing CPU load and maximizing overall processing efficiency, and is especially critical for HD display applications. Newer HD display systems require substantially more processing capability than earlier systems designed for standard definition (SD) content playback, so managing CPU load is especially important. By utilizing a dedicated UVD processing unit for the decoding of VC-1, H.264, MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 compressed video streams, significant CPU cycles are freed up for other processing tasks.

Multi-display Video Immersion

The ability to support multiple independent display outputs simultaneously is a critical requirement for realizing ultra-immersive, panoramic video displays. Multi-display technology such as AMD Eyefinity technology can enable a single GPU to support as many as six independent display outputs simultaneously, delivering an intense “surround sight” experience that can be applied across a wide range of applications. With multi-display technology, users can connect several high-resolution displays, flexibly configured in various combinations of landscape and portrait orientations, to achieve a large integrated display surface that enables windowed and full-screen 3D applications, images and video to span across multiple displays as one visual plane (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Eyefinity technology can drive up to six displays with contiguous graphics for realistic simulation applications.

Eyefinity technology works with applications that support non-standard aspect ratios, which is required for panning across multiple displays. To enable more than two displays, additional panels with native DisplayPort connectors, and/or DisplayPort-compliant active adapters to convert your monitor’s native input to your card’s DisplayPort or Mini-DisplayPort connector(s), are required. Eyefinity technology can support up to six displays using a single enabled AMD Radeon graphics card with Windows Vista or Windows 7 operating systems—the number of displays may vary by board design and you should confirm exact specifications with the applicable manufacturer before purchase. Single large surface (SLS) functionality requires an identical display resolution on all configured displays.

The Video Electronics Standards Association’s (VESA) DisplayPort connectivity standard is a another key enabler for multi-display technology. DisplayPort 1.2, the latest version of the standard, boasts features such as higher bandwidth (5.4 Gbit/s per lane) and support for high bit-rate audio. Perhaps its most interesting feature, however, is the micro-packet architecture that enables the ability to address and drive several display devices through one DisplayPort connector, a feature commonly referred to as daisy-chaining. Where DVI and HDMI both require a dedicated clock source for each display, DisplayPort only requires a single reference clock source to drive as many DisplayPort streams as there are display pipelines in the GPU, yielding the most efficient possible multi-display designs.

Industry Standardization and the Rise of Stereo 3D Displays

Just as the movie industry has embraced stereoscopic 3D—or stereo 3D—to attract moviegoers and drive box-office revenue, the digital display industry is moving toward the adoption of stereo 3D to provide an extra dimension of immersion and entertainment for a wide range of applications spanning digital content creation, computer aided design (CAD), data visualization and virtual reality.

Nearly all of the 3D films in movie theaters today are presented in passive stereo, for which the viewers’ glasses don’t contain any active components. But there are many different types of stereo 3D presentation techniques in development today that show promise for widespread adoption, including active frame sequential, passive dual display and auto-stereoscopic approaches.

The introduction of high refresh-rate LCD panels (120 Hz and higher) has inspired new stereoscopic 3D display devices, but it is important to note that these displays implement proprietary approaches to stereo 3D, and no industry standard has been implemented to date. These proprietary approaches have been implemented by vendors of 3D glasses and vendors of stereo 3D-enabled TVs, which strictly limit users’ choice of hardware (TV and glasses) configurations, and, many would argue, limits the growth potential of the stereo 3D display market.

But certainly there is hope for industry standardization in this area. HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort now support transmission of stereo 3D frames and offer plug and play support for stereo 3D via communication of device capabilities and standard stereo 3D transmission formats.

A key point about these transmission approaches is that the matching up of appropriate glasses is driven by the displays supporting the standards, rather than by the underlying GPU or system generating stereo 3D content. This would further simplify stereo 3D solutions, as users would no longer be required to know the ins and outs of display/glasses pairings. Because of these factors, it is probable that these approaches will become the dominant standards.

It’s broadly acknowledged that a standards-based approach to stereo 3D is needed to ensure portability of stereo glasses between vendors, which would lower the complexity and cost associated with consuming stereo 3D content, and enable a greater range of choices for users. The Open Stereo 3D initiative, launched in 2010, is designed to facilitate this transition, and promises to accelerate user adoption of stereo 3D displays and systems.

Advanced Micro Devices

Sunnyvale, CA.

(408) 749-4000.

[www.amd.com].