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Affordable HD camcorders are right around the corner

Posted by: , 09:44 AEDT, Fri December 16, 2005
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High-definition consumer video cameras are tough to find these days and cost around $1,800. But next year, you might be able to grab one for $799, according to a camera chip upstart.

Ambarella has devised a family of multicore microprocessors that it says can compress and process HD video efficiently and cheaply. The company's chips could be incorporated into a video camera selling for around $799 or into digital still cameras, which would become capable of taking high-resolution stills (8 megapixels or so) as well as TV-quality video.

Three major camera makers have already begun to build experimental cameras using Ambarella's chips.

The skyrocketing cost of developing and manufacturing chips, however, has forced many to begin adopting third-party microprocessors or imagers (the chip that captures light) from companies such as Texas Instruments and NuCore.

The technical demands of consumers also continue to escalate, putting further pressure on camera makers. Tape is on its way out. In Japan, nearly 85 percent of cameras on the market today rely on flash memory, hard drives or built-in DVD recorders to store video.

Demand has also increased for hybrid cameras that combine both high-quality stills with TV-quality video. To date, most cameras either have good still quality and marginal video or vice versa. Samsung released a novel camera to get around this problem; it comes with two lenses and two separate optical system.

While the two-in-one solution works, other camera makers have not followed. Researchers at Micron Technology and other companies have said the hybrid problem can be conquered through advances in microprocessing and image capture.

The increase in sales of digital TVs and programming has made HD the next check-off item for camera makers. Unfortunately, it's not easy to squeeze the functionality into a consumer camera. Encoding and decoding H.264 video (the standard for HD) requires far more complexity than other video streams, making the chips difficult to create. HD also gobbles up a lot of hard drive and memory space.

Ambarella's conviction that it can bring down HD prices with its chips could have to do with its executives' backgrounds.

Ambarella's basic chip contains a separate processing core for video designed by the company. System management functions are handled by an integrated ARM processor. Integrated interfaces then connect the core chip to an imager (the chip that captures light from the outside world), LCD (liquid crystal display) screens and other peripherals.

So far, the company plans to release three versions. The A199 will provide full HD recording capabilities. It runs at 216MHz and burns about 1 watt. The A150, which also runs at 216MHz, provides resolutions more akin to standard TV and will be aimed at digital still camera makers. The A100, meanwhile, runs at lower speeds but consumes less power. Credit: CNet News


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