MediaTek brings HDR video to the set top box

CES 2016: Video and wearables are the new silicon toys

Mediatek LogoMediaTek had three new chips to show off at CES, an SoC and two wearable controllers. Although all three are labeled ‘SoC’, SemiAccurate finds it a bit hard to lump wearable device controllers in with smartphone SoCs.

The good news is that there isn’t a Smartphone SoC in this trio, there are just three devices that are going to be quite useful in the real world. Imagine that, a show like CES showing off devices that could make your life a little better at an affordable price, that would be the MT8581, MT2523, and MT7679. As you can obviously tell from their names, the first is aimed at set top box/media player/Roku-like devices and the last pair are wearable oriented.

For those of you not up on current Mediatek code names, lets start out with the MT8581, a set top box SoC with full 4K and HDR capabilities. It is a quad-core A53 running at 1.5Ghz backed by a Mali-T860MP2 GPU. The spec sheet lists the SoC supporting HEVC, VP9, and H.264 all at 4K60 resolution. Given the market this chip is aimed at, this probably means hardware encode and decode.

MediaTek MT8581 HDR rendering vs SD

It looks MUCH better in person

That is not the best part though, the best part is the support for HDR video, a very hard thing to do at this end of the market. HDR requires not only wider outputs, 10-12b per color depending on implementation, but also throughout the codec and video subsystems themselves. This adds a lot of work, it is not a trivial update and the results do look fabulous. It probably doesn’t look like much in the picture above, but bear in mind it is a simple picture of HDR vs non-HDR videos running, taken on a normal SLR, and displayed on your screen which is likely not HDR. Take our word for it, HDR looks a LOT better in person, and with the MT8581 Mediatek is brining it to a mass market price point.

They are doing the same with another chip that we were asked not to talk about but the info is floating, you can find it with a quick search. This chip was powering an HDR panel running Android TV v6.0/Marshmallow. We can talk about the first Android TV v6.0 though, and it too looks really good even if the concept of smart TVs is fatally flawed. That part is not Mediatek’s fault though, they just make what customers want to buy, and for some reason OEM customers want to make smart TVs.

Moving on to the other end of the spectrum we get to the MT 2523 and MT7679 twins. These two are, respectively, gateway and wearable device chips for the burgeoning IoT market and it’s 7,395 variants. Both are centered around the Coretex-M4F MCU with some Flash and SRAM added on so you don’t need external memory for either one. For the most part they are the same and only differ in peripherals.

The MT2523 has an integrated PMIC, BTLE, and GNSS, about what you would expect for a small wearable device that talks to a more capable device in a base station for connectivity to the world at large. The M4F here runs at 208MHz, sheer overkill for a smartwatch but great for battery life.

The MT7679 doesn’t need the positioning or a PMIC because it should be externally powered and immobile but it does have BTLE for obvious reasons. Add on A/B/G/N Wi-Fi for backhaul and you have the making of a device gateway. Throw in a hardware security and crypto engine plus a bunch of hardware interfaces like I2C, ADC, and I2S and you have the seeds of a versatile HDK to hack on. Ironically the big brother gateway silicon only runs at 192MHz, something we suspect has everything to do with the crypto being offloaded.

In the end that is what Mediatek has to talk about, HDR via a quad-A53 device for set top box use at the high-end, devices at the low. As you can probably tell from the M4F controller at their hearts, the MT2523 and MT7679 are not going to challenge 8-core A57 devices any time soon for anything but battery life. And price, with price being a likely killer feature for all three, something that should translate well into consumer benefits.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate