NEC and Renesas Technology have each developed new cell phone processors that promise to enable more advanced multimedia functions in handsets, they said this week.
The chips integrate support for multi-megapixel digital image sensors and can also handle multimedia processing. The Renesas chip -- the more powerful of the two announced this week -- can also support digital television broadcasting. While implementation of the features is up to the companies that might use the chips, their presence provides a clue as to the possible feature-set of future cell phones.
Both chips, the MP100 from NEC Electronics and the SH-Mobile 3A from Renesas, integrate support for a digital camera. Cell phones typically have an additional chip to drive a digital camera but this isn't needed if either of the new processors is used. The pay-off for users it that this space saving could mean a smaller, lighter handset or provide space for other chips such as more memory. The NEC chip supports up to a 3-megapixel sensor while the Renesas chip supports up to a 5-megapixel sensor, the companies said.
Renesas' digital television support covers the H.264 standard that will be used in Japan's ISDB-T (Terrestrial Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting) system, DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handheld) and DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting). The NEC processor isn't powerful enough to cope with digital television but the company says its MP211 released last year serve that function.
In addition to the chips, the companies are also offering software to add other multimedia functions. For example, NEC offers code to play audio in formats including MPEG4 AAC, MP3, Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) and Microsoft's WMA (Windows Media Audio), as well as video in MPEG4, H.264 and Windows Media Video format. Other image related support includes JPEG images and QR Code and JAN (Japanese Article Number) barcodes.
NEC estimates that software design represents about 60 percent of total development time for 2G (second generation) handsets and has risen to around 80 percent for 3G (third generation) handsets, primarily due to the greater complexity of the functions offered in 3G handsets versus 2G models. By adopting the chip and the company's software, handset manufacturers will be able to cut down on software development costs and also reuse more software from handset to handset, said Masakazu Yamashina, general manager of NEC Electronics' mobile systems division.
Also Thursday, NEC Electronics said it will begin work with TTP Communications PLC on dual-mode cell phone chips that support both 2G and 3G standards. The company is eyeing the production of a chip that handles GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) data standards and WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).