Board vendors augment PC frame-grabber offerings

While systems integrators and developers eagerly await the introduction of PCI Express-based frame grabbers, image processors, and displays controllers, board vendors are augmenting their PCI-based product offerings with products designed to interface to the latest analog and digital cameras.

While systems integrators and developers eagerly await the introduction of PCI Express-based frame grabbers, image processors, and displays controllers, board vendors are augmenting their PCI-based product offerings with products designed to interface to the latest analog and digital cameras. At this year's Vision Show East (May 2004; Boston, MA, USA), four board vendors announced a range of products to support established digital interfaces such as Camera Link and nonstandard analog cameras (see table). Rather than introduce products with radically new architectures, these products featured incremental technological advances aimed at increasing the product breath of each company's board portfolio.

Many products were being offered with OEM discounts at prices less than $1000. And, while the Camera Link interface dominated most of the digital-interface products from companies such as BitFlow (Woburn, MA, USA), Matrox (Dorval, QC, Canada), and MuTech (Billerica, MA, USA), many of the new boards targeted analog acquisition.

Perhaps the most interesting of these were the Domino Melody and Domino Harmony boards from Euresys (Angleur, Belgium). The two boards complement the company's already established Domino Iota and Gamma analog interface boards with increased on-board memory and bus interface speeds. More important, however, they use the company's patented Digital Domain technology, in which the input analog signals are immediately digitized.

In traditional analog frame-grabber designs, the incoming analog signal is first low-pass filtered and the variable offset and gain, sync, and black level recovered using analog circuitry. In both the Melody and Harmony boards, no such analog circuits are used. Rather, the incoming analog signal is digitized without passing through these stages. This reduces the analog signal conditioning of the signal to a minimum, and the signal-processing tasks traditionally carried out in the analog domain are performed by digital circuitry. These tasks include black-level detection, horizontal and vertical phase detection, and the generation of the sampling clock.

FPGA-based, the on-board Digital Domain Decoding engine also implements selectable low-pass filters, color subcarrier removal, and dynamic gain and offset control. According to Euresys, this reduces noise and allows jitter-free images to be acquired without the need for additional synchronization or a pixel clock. Targeted specifically at machine-vision applications, the boards also feature optoisolated outputs, differential inputs, and general-purpose I/O lines.

Like the Euresys boards, MuTech's video digitizers and frame grabbers are targeted at machine-vision applications. Introducing no less than five new products at the show, the company took the opportunity to diversify its product line with a board targeted at security and video-surveillance applications. Using four on-board Media processors, the FalconEye-MP compresses both video and audio in real time from four channels and simultaneously allows the uncompressed video signal to be transferred to the PCs display memory via DMA for video preview.

According to John Morrisey, president of MuTech, the on-board media processors also support motion detection, allowing the developer to program the board to detect a field of view within the image. To broaden its product line further, the company also announced a 1280 × 1024-pixel CMOS-based USB camera, offered in a $1500 color version (the PC-1280-C) and a $1200 monochrome version (the PC-1280-M). With a C-mount lens, both cameras feature 15 frames/s at 1280 × 1024 pixels or 30 frames/s in VGA format. With a USB 2.0 interface, the cameras support a built-in frame buffer to avoid lost data on USB congestion and Windows 2k/XP support.

Vendors are expected to further augment their PC-based offerings later this year with products that incorporate the PCI Express interface. At the show, a number of companies stated that they were already developing such products, although they were unwilling to be named. With the introduction of these PCI Express-based digitizers and camera interfaces, PC-based imaging will gained increased momentum as host data-transfer speeds increase, allowing higher-resolution cameras to be supported at full data rates.

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