Altera FPGAs to Help with Dolby Vision Solutions

By Helen Vince

Display Components, Materials and Manufacturing – FPGAs have come a long, long way from their early beginnings and now power all kinds of professional and consumer electronic equipment. 

Altera and Xilinx dominate the market, but at IBC, Altera caught our eye with news of its support for the high dynamic range solution being developed by Dolby and partners.

We have reported extensively on one version of high dynamic range called Dolby Vision, from Dolby Laboratories. Dolby has shown prototypes of UHD TVs that offer a peak luminance of 2000 nits, while others like Vizio and TCL have shown sets that have peak luminance in the 700-800 nit range. These are the sets that will come to market later this year (actually Vizio sets have just arrived at retail).  The Dolby Vision process currently supports mastering of content to a peak luminance of 4000 nits (about 40 times current TV brightness) and an expansion of the dynamic range of near 1000x.

At IBC, Altera announced that several television manufacturers have already engaged with Dolby and Altera for the Dolby Vision solution.  These will be based upon the new Arria V FPGA from Altera. Features of this FPGA include:

  • 28 nm FPGAs that balance cost and power with performance
  • Four variants offer low-power 6.375 Gbps and 10.3125 Gbps transceivers with an optional dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 hard processor system
  • Delivers up to 40% lower total power vs. 6.375 Gbps Arria II FPGAs
  • High level of integration with abundant hard IP blocks

As you can see, FPGAs can integrate CPU, DSPs and a wide variety of IP cores and reference designs in a single SoC. Such SoCs can now easily integrate functionality such as decoding HEVC compressed content and scaling of HD content to UHD resolution, plus other image processing capabilities. At IBC for example, Altera also showed an FPGA H.265 (HEVC) codec-on-chip solution targeted for low-delay applications with all encoding and decoding handled by a single FPGA.

According to Roland Vlaicu, vice president for Consumer Imaging at Dolby Laboratories, “Altera FPGAs provide the processing and compression capabilities that enable Dolby Vision to override previous technology limitations that required video content to be altered before being reproduced for transmission”.

We were a little unclear exactly what that meant, so we asked Vlaicu to clarify. According to Dolby, “the FPGA is intended to be used in production level TVs. The FPGA implements just the Dolby Vision part, and acts as a “Dolby Vision co-processor” to the DTV SoC”. That may also include HEVC decoding and extraction of the metadata needed to map the HDR image to the capabilities of the set. – Chris Chinnock