Archive for July, 2007

Jul 27 2007

DRM, Audio Recording and Prosumer Audio – ASCAP Expo 2007

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ASCAP, the song writers and composers association, held their second annual expo on the state of the writing, publishing and recording industry in LA. The event had several tracks and areas of focus.

Of interest to the Chip Design community was the directions in Digital Rights Management and ownership/registration of songs. There were several legal advisor sessions which reviewed the use of digitally sampled content being included in the current songs, and what would be considered copyrightable as new material. The short answer on this is there is a finite amount of notes available in music – creating and recording new performances of existing note combinations may be OK in certain contexts, but you need the council of a professional copyright attorney. The use of home or studio based recording, sampling and modifying existing music and reusing it in new material is definitely a violation of the copyright rules, even if the technology supports it.

The current plan for most of the DRM directions, including electronic based delivery of music, is to NOT have DRM access or subscription information encrypted in the data stream which would have to be decoded for real-time playback. There has been discussion of home entertainment environments wanting to put the DRM encryption hardware in the home server as part of the security accelerator cores. The accelerators can focus on standard video and data com encryption (DES, AES, ARC4, MD5,SHA, RSA, etc) without additional need for audio based crypto solutions.

An interesting exemption to this whole DRM issue, is the DSP based audio generation models (synthesis playback) that are sampled from either real instruments and performers or harmonic models are OK to include in performance material. As a result, using the Garritan Libraries, Cakewalk, the Sony Acid Libraries, Garage Band are all clean solutions for both realtime playback and music creation. Roland was showing both laptop/desktop based library DSP synthesis playback with USB keyboards and a combos with traditional internally generated instrument synthesis from their studio keyboard product line.

On the recording side, the resolution of data converters for home studio recording is approaching that of the studios. The current low/mid end direct digital mixing and capture systems have 24 bit word size and 48kHz sampling rates. High end systems available to the consumer support 24bit @ 96kHz data. Most studio systems are running at 24bit/96kHz to 24bit/256kHz data rates. The main shift in these systems has been the inclusion of the CD direct write control cores along with the multi-channel data converter cores. The current limiting section for single chip integration is the noise floor reduction on the analog muxes for channel selection. The home systems support the 24b/48k data rates at 4 channels of mixed audio (microphone or instrument) input. The summary from the panel discussion with a group of professional recording engineers is that it is OK to record with a home studio, but you need studio equipment and engineers to properly mix audio and then down-sample it for use on portable players.

Along with the electronic and legal side of the show, the people, booths, and events were all interesting and pleasant. The booths had a wide range that extended from conference rooms filled with instruments and displays to a small table with a book and a stack of paper. With these booths were a variety of people from lawyers to successful musicians such as Randy Neuman, Chris Brubeck, Terri Gibbs, and Louie Bellson. Even more musicians were at the opening ASCAP Pop Awards. These included people like Melissa Etheridge. Other events such as the Johnny Mandell Big Band were also live performances, such as with the Randy Neuman, who talked about some of his songs, and also played some of his tunes. They also had early-morning sessions that were early morning jazz panels that had some of the biggest names in jazz, such as Chris Brubeck, Marcus Miller, and Terri Gibbs.

Pallab Chatterjee & Peter Chatterjee

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Jul 26 2007

Both Wired and Wireless Camps Still Strong – CES 2007

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The 2007 CES show continued the electronic ecosystem of BOTH wired and wireless solutions having strong footholds in the design space. The overall public trend towards wireless has not really impacted the high performance world where wires still rule.

On the networking side, the 802.11n space saw the realization of several, sometimes conflicting, interpretations of the draft specification. However, the Gigabit wired world was in full swing with interoperability and long cable lengths. One long awaited wired solution, was the area of power line netwrks. This long awaited technology actually had prototypes on display in various stages of reality. One of the better usability options was the implementation from Dlink which incorporates the 3DES encryption IP engine from DS2 in their 200MBPS product. Having incorporated most of the handshake and data security in the custom chip rather than software, helps not only maintain the data rate through the product but also simplifies the customer learning curve. The IP and the custom chips in this category are being built with current process geometries (90nm180nm) based on the voltage levels involved.

The peripheral industry (cameras, printers, media players, home & car enterainement system control) are the biggest players focusing on wireless. There were a lot of players in this space
but only a few multiple booth suppliers. Intel, NEC, Wisair all had prominent multibooth custom chip representation at the show and also demonstrated actual working data transfer and samechannel / multidevice connectivity. Just about every one of the players were still dealing with small data size (sub 50Mb) data transfer applications. The WiMedia Alliance group which is trying to help promote interoperability between partners in the semiconductor, application, end system and chip development communities and currently has Synopsys in a role of primary spokesman. They identified IP solutions in the 25090nm process nodes, and mentioned that they have also completed 65nm PHY implementations. As the EDA community is not known for “working and playing well with others” it will be interesting to see how they pull the wireless world together.

The big players in the wired world at the show were high performance audio and video. The HDMI side was highlighted by Pericom and Genuum having long drive length (over 30meter) HDMI 1.3 repeater, mux, demux and active cable solutions. These custom chips are supporting greater than 5GHz bandwidth and are targeted ay both the OEM and addon product markets. Most of thePlasma displays were showing HDMI 1.3 from a BluRay source to show off the highcolor mode, while the DLP and LCD folks were showing HDMI 1.2 or 1.1 solution sources and cabling on 25meter cabling lengths. Analogix was the only vendor that I saw, that was able to display custom silicon on the Display Port 1.0 platform running a Direct Drive Monitor at the show that could still operate after a “live POR and reboot” of the system. The technology will be available as product in 2007 and may appear in OEM/IP forms in the future. Both Genuum and Pericom are targetting Display Port product in 2007 after finalization of the 1.1 specification.

The high performance audio guys are sticking with what works and adding new technology tweaks. Tesla has a new active shield cable that uses real power supplies rather than batteries to keep the signal in the cable and shut out interference. In the sound room demo (played into a set of Theil 3.7 speakers), you could hear an audible increase in head room at BOTH the high freq and low end. On the amplifier side, Zetex Semiconductor showed thier new “Class Z” audio amplifier chip. It is targeted at the home audio marketplace with a modified Class D design, specifications of >100db noise floor, and low THD. From a practical side, it is one of first Class D high power amplifier solutions that DOES NOT require it be stuck in an automotive environment where the road noise is needed to remove the audible clocking noise. Parasound continued to have one of the best and cleanest sounds at the show using industry proven bipolar class AB amps, JFET inputs, board designs that are very clean and thermally balanced and absolutely huge, clean power supplies and heat sink systems it is perfecting classic design at its best.

As a final note on the audio side, Music Giant and Monster Cable are insuring there will continue to be high quality content for playback in these systems. Music Giant with the HD Audio campaign is providing 96Khz and 128Khz sampled 20+ bit data for music including classic labels such as Verve so home media systems would have something to play. Monster Cable, in addition to a ton of new home and audio products also launched Monster Music which is a new HD Audio music label (starting with the signing of George Benson as it first artist, and receiving 3 Grammy Award Nominations) that is focusing on the highest performance audio and video content available.


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Jul 26 2007

Performance Audio is still ruled by Linear Circuits – NAMM 2007 Coverage

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At the recent NAMM show in Anaheim in January, there was a continuing resurgence of industry proven technology and a peek at directions to come.

The industry proven technology is the solid foothold of class A and class AB amplifiers. These implementation have long been the mainstay of the performance amplifier market for guitars, basses, keyboards, and vocals. One of the growth segments in this market is the vacuum tube amplifier business. Groove Tubes and JJ Electronics (formerly Tesla) both major suppliers of audio vacuum tubes, reported significant increases in orders (>30% AGR last two years). The main amplifier makers (Peavey, Fender, Marshall, Orange) all introduced new tube models this year. Peavey introduced a new small tube amp (the “JSX Mini Colossal”, weighing in at under 23lbs) which is a 05watt 8′inch recording/performance amp that supports a simultaneous full scale XLR output connection that is not affected by the master volume/power control.

The semiconductor community was also present with new high performance monolithic solutions in the professional audio space. One of the chip highlights was the new highCMRR balanced line receivers from THAT Corporation (the 1600 series products). Their new design eliminates the “clipping” that occurs in traditional balanced designs when connected in single ended applications.

On the systems side, there were the standard array of effects pedals and preamps. There was also a new product from Creation Audio Labs that stood out at the show. Their MW1 Studio Tool is a combo function unit whose specifications and features were put together by industry icon engineer/producer Michael Wagener. The product uses active circuitry rather than transformers to implement load and cable isolation and effects isolation/gain. The result is a box that supports multiple outputs to a recoding environment (both instrument direct and gained) without phase shift or distortion and one of the cleanest signal band power supplies that can be found commercially.

On the peeks at directions to come the folks at Cakewalk introduced thier Sonar 6 Producer edition sound/music editing software. This product is architected to take advantage of the new multicore processors from Intel and AMD and do so without any user intervention for configuration. The product in single processor mode works traditionally. In a multicore application, the product identifies the availability and directs new functions and plugins to the available cores in order to maximize throughput. This is one of the few multicore apps available at this time to really use the multicore capability, and is hopefully a glimpse of what is to come with proper reengineering of software.

The last big electronic product direction at the show was the further encroachment of DSP into the analog domain. Line 6 which has been a leader in the DSP implementation of multichannel nonlinear modeling introduced several next generation versions of existing products that now utilize the ADI family of DSPs vs the prior generation

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