Programmable logic promotes image-processing ICs

In the past, the main purpose of gate-array intergrated circuits (ICs) was to enable systems developers to eliminate the glue logic needed to interface standard off-the-shelf components. Now, as gate-array densities and speeds have increased significantly, image-processing vendors such as Annapolis Micro Systems (Annapolis, MD) and Visicom (San Diego, CA) are using gate array ICs to build reconfigurable image processors. They are hard-wiring image-processing algorithms into the gate arrays so th

Apr 1st, 1999

Programmable logic promotes image-processing ICs

Andy Wilson, Editor at Large

andyw@pennwell.com

In the past, the main purpose of gate-array intergrated circuits (ICs) was to enable systems developers to eliminate the glue logic needed to interface standard off-the-shelf components. Now, as gate-array densities and speeds have increased significantly, image-processing vendors such as Annapolis Micro Systems (Annapolis, MD) and Visicom (San Diego, CA) are using gate array ICs to build reconfigurable image processors. They are hard-wiring image-processing algorithms into the gate arrays so that systems can be reconfigured on-the-fly. This capability is also permitting gate arrays to be adapted to different imaging applications. Moreover, new algorithms can be easily added in the field.

Emerging trend

Another IC trend is also emerging. Due to the lack of commercially available integrated circuits for image processing, many engineering companies, such as Infinite Technology (Richardson, TX), Perigree LLC (Liverpool, NY), and Video Perception (Indianapolis, IN) are offering image-processing ICs packaged in either field-programmable-gate-array (FPGA) or VHSIC hardware-description-language models. Descriptions of these parts and their manufacturers are found in this month`s Wilson`s Website column (see p. 60).

In developing these devices, companies have found an easy way to market image-processing ICs without incurring the huge fabrication costs associated with custom IC development. Better yet, because such parts are essentially gate arrays, they can be manufactured on an as-required basis, giving their manufacturers more marketing leverage. And, they can be sold either as stand-alone ICs or as intellectual-property ICs that other companies can insert into their embedded image-processing designs.

Limited by the number of gates that are offered by gate-array vendors, these IC designs can, at present, offer such relatively complex functions as YCrCb-to-RGB conversion, NTSC (National Television Systems Committee) encoding, and discrete-cosine-transform compression. And, as fast as semiconductor linewidths decrease, leading gate-array vendors are leveraging the technology to offer faster and denser gate arrays.

Simplfying design

Earlier this year, for example, both Xilinx (San Jose, CA) and Altera (San Jose, CA) debuted fast FPGAs with 1 million system gates. With devices ranging from 50,000 to 1 million system gates at clock speeds to 160 MHz, Xilinx`s Virtex series includes a library of SmartIP cores to help developers rapidly create complex designs. Not to be outdone, Altera`s Advanced Programmable Embedded MatriX (APEX) 20K devices range in densities from 100,000 to 1 million gates with 125-MHz system performance. Using a MultiCore architecture, these devices integrate look-up-table logic, product-term logic, and memory into a single architecture, thereby eliminating the need for multiple devices and simplifying the implementation of complex designs.

With the introduction of these ICs, it seems certain that Infinite Technology, Perigree, and Video Perception will leverage more functionality into their product offerings. For board and systems developers, future image-processing systems will not only use such devices to mop up glue logic, but also as reconfigurable and dedicated image processors. As a result, imaging board vendors are expected to aim at niche markets with lower-cost products.

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