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Fast surveillance product development using DaVinci Technology

Kane Computing : 10 July, 2008  (Technical Article)
In an article written by Kane Computing, video surveillance technology experts examine the role of Texas Instruments' DaVinci processor technology in the development of commercial products
This article examines the various stages, activities and decisions in the selection process of the most appropriate components, including hardware, software and the integration of these efficiently and quickly, to create required commercial products. The contents are based on an actual project, but the principles apply to many products, including Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), IP Cameras, IP Phones, Personal Video Recorders (PVRs), IP Set-Top Boxes and many more. This article will cover:.

1 Definition stage.
2 Review of alternative products/libraries.
3 Review of resources and skills required and available.
4 Project requirements/statement of work.
5 Success story.
6 Conclusions.

When developing a new product, it is important to first consider what outcome is desired, or more appropriately know what the user/customer wants. Usually, this is not clever technology, but ease of use, particular size/shape, low power consumption and, 'perfect' image quality for video related products.

It is important that sufficient time is left for discussion, research and debate to establish exactly what is required in regards to function, performance, cost, etc. This is the product definition phase.

Having established this, the next phase is to review the technology available to meet (as closely as possible) the product definition. This can include visiting exhibitions, seminars, workshops, web sites, as well as seeking advice from consultants. Though there are many resources to help determine the product definition, the process is usually finalized by relying on past experience and knowledge of the designers, their colleagues or recommendations and advice from other people who have done similar projects. In general, selection of products and suppliers who have vast experience and a good reputation in the related technology is important.

This phase usually involves meetings and discussions with and demonstrations by the selected suppliers.

Having selected the most appropriate technology for the new product, the developer then must consider the resources and skills required to create this product. This requires hardware design skills to create the required circuitry based on the target size/shape and cost, bill of material (BOM). This process can be helped by basing the design on proven development hardware such as evaluation modules.

Most video products will require video compression (encoders) or decompression (decoders) and possibly audio codecs, which are purchased as commercial libraries. These libraries must be integrated into a framework and in the application software designed over the framework. Depending on the application, this may require DSP and RTOS/OS (uC Linux, Linux, Win CE etc) programming skills. The manufacturer may also need to consider training and/or recruitment.

When the manufacturer has determined what can be done in-house and what has to be outsourced, a Project Requirements Specification or Statement of Work should be provided. This is a critical document as it details precisely what the developer expects from his design partners and minimizes (and hopefully eliminates) problems during later stages of a project, when they are much harder to correct and cause delays that can be crucial to the successful launch of a product.

This will enable suppliers and sub-contractors to supply formal proposals and quotations, then work can begin. During the design stages, it is important that the project manager conduct regular reviews, and identify and monitor critical stages from a technical and time-related aspect.

I will now discuss an actual project where the aforementioned principles were applied, resulting in a successfully developed product based on the manufacturer's planned costs and timescales.

A manufacturer of PVRs wanted to launch a new product that used more efficient encoders, was lower power and smaller than the previous generation. The product specification was created, which included video bit rates/quality, etc. The company reviewed different technologies to meet this specification. The previous generation product used a hardware video encoder, but they were attracted to Texas Instruments' (TI) DaVinci technology. TI's DaVinci technology is the first integrated portfolio of digital signal processor SoCs, software, tools and support optimised for Digital Video systems. Fully programmable under Linux, the scalable DaVinci architecture combines high performance and low power with seamless integration during development, enabling highly differentiated features to be implemented by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In addition, the availability of state of the art development hardware evaluation modules (EVMs)/software development kits (SDKs), well supported with TI and third party libraries, enables customers to get to market faster.

With a full portfolio of processors offering single or dual core processing architectures (DSP and ARM), the DaVinci family of processors provides various levels of price/performance depending on customers' needs, with fully compatible software architecture between platforms.. The array of software and support surrounding DaVinci technology brings together what had been poles apart; the optimised, off-the-shelf capabilities of fixed-function devices like application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) or SoC's and the flexibility and adaptability of field programmable devices such as DSPs, general-purpose central processing units (CPUs) and to some extent, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Like all manufacturers, our customer wanted the best of both worlds, the fast time-to-market of fixed-function devices without giving up the differentiated, competitive functionality derived from programmable technology. DaVinci technology provides both. He understood that DaVinci technology is supported by all of the resources of TI as well as an extensive network of third-party system integrators and developers who have considerable expertise in Digital Video applications.

Excellent tools, such as the Digital Video Evaluation Module (DVEVM), bring together many of the DaVinci development aids in one place so development can begin immediately. Based on a modular architecture, which maintains the flexibility that's imperative during development, the DVEVM comes with everything to begin development immediately, including a NTSC/PAL video camera, LCD screen, speakers, microphone, a hard disk drive and an IR remote control unit.

The DaVinci software infrastructure transforms what could be an inherently complex challenge into a simple process without sacrificing any of the underlying power, performance and functionality. Manufacturers remain focused on the Digital Video features and content of their products and don't become mired in the intricacies of optimising codecs or programming DSP cores.

A robust layer of software-composed application programming interfaces (API) as well as middleware frameworks insulate developers from the minutiae of low level programming tasks. For example, any of the ready-to-use multimedia codecs can be readily changed without modifying application code.

The APIs and middleware frameworks let developers program DaVinci technology at a high level and as a whole rather than as two distinct processing elements. Developers need not concern themselves with which processing core a task is executing on. They simply take advantage of the DaVinci ARM/DSP integrated development environment (IDE) and focus on the value-added features of their product or system.

A series of meetings took place with Texas Instruments and Kane Computing (KCL) to discuss this technology, which included demonstrations of different compression algorithms to establish the best compression method to suit the product criteria.

These discussions also reviewed costs for development tools and libraries, as well as the most appropriate allocation of development activities. The conclusion was that the manufacturer would design hardware in-house based on schematics available for Texas Instruments' EVM development hardware and also handle Linux application programming in-house. Proposals were prepared and accepted based on the manufacturers' Requirements Specification.

A Texas Instruments appointed Authorized Software Provider (ASP), was contracted through KCL to supply the required libraries including video encoders, audio encoders, video decoders, codec engine and RTSL streaming libraries. The ASP was also asked to provide example programs and integrate these into a framework running on the DaVinci EVM. The manufacturer then used these programs within his own application software being developed with a DaVinci EVM. In parallel, the manufacturer was designing his own hardware and then ported the application from the EVM to this new hardware.

For this project, the ASP allocated a Project Manager and produced a Statement of Work, which was used as the basis for monitoring and providing phased deliveries on the project.

In conclusion, this project was completed on time with no significant technical interface problems. This was due to the care taken at every stage of the process as detailed above, and the ease of use and array of support available within the Texas Instruments DaVinci technology umbrella with features such as:.

* Software, hardware, development tools and support all tuned to rapid Digital Video deployments.
* Comprehensive software that complements complete hardware resources.
* Optimised to Digital Video and capable of fast differentiation with value added features.
* Full selection of ready-to-use multimedia codecs.
* High-level programmability through APIs, development frameworks and powerful tools that lower development costs.
* Highly integrated processors that can reduce BOM costs by 50 percent.
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