Putting HD video on your phone

Texas Instruments says its new OMAP cell phone chips will deliver crisper images and fewer hiccups as early as next year.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Apple will release one of the most highly touted cell phones in history this week. And by next year, those first iPhones will likely be woefully outdated.

Chipmaker Texas Instruments is in the middle of ramping up for the release of its third-generation OMAP processor, a platform for cell phones. Cell phones containing OMAP 3 will hit the market in 2008, according to Avner Goren, TI's worldwide director of cellular systems marketing.

And what will OMAP 3 phones have? High-definition video--720x1368-pixel resolution--at the high end, he said. The cameras on the phones will also be capable of shooting 12 megapixels of photos per second. That can be divided up into one 12-megapixel shot, or four 3-megapixel shots taken in burst mode.

Users will also be able to more easily zoom into relevant portions of documents or rotate files like spread sheets and Acrobat documents more easily. The phones, Goren said, will also provide better performance and be better at not interrupting a function--like watching videos or trolling the Web--when phone calls come in.

"People want responsiveness," Goren said in an interview last week. "When you rotate an Acrobat document, there are a lot of calculations going on."

TI has also been experimenting with a projector that can be inserted into a phone. The projector is capable of displaying high-definition movies onto a flat surface.

"There is more processing power than what can be shown on a cell phone screen," he said. "One of the limits is the physical dimensions of the phone."

Updating the OMAP platform is crucial for TI, which has suffered lower-than-expected revenues for the past several months. The company remains the largest provider of processors and communications chips into the cell phone market, but competition is a constant. Intel for a number of years tried to take on TI in cell phones. Intel won a few designs, but ultimately sold this division. Now, TI competes against Samsung and others.

OMAP 3 will be built around an ARM Cortex A8 processor made on the 65-nanometer process. (ARM designs the processor core and TI implements it in silicon.) It will also include integrated graphics and cores for handling other functions.

In addition, the company is making communications chips that combine different radios onto the same piece of silicon.

Despite prodding, Goren would neither confirm nor deny whether TI is supplying chips for the iPhone.

Different OMAP 3 chips will be targeted at different markets. The OMAP 3430 will sport HD video and a camera capable of 12 megapixels per second. The OMAP 3420 will sport 5 megapixels per second and VGA-quality video. For lower-end phones, the OMAP 3410 will have 3 megapixels and lower-resolution video.

For cheaper phones, TI will also update the LoCosto line of processors. LoCosto was announced in 2004, but it's only been adopted in about 50 different phones.

The cell phone market, which adds up to about a billion units a year, is being driven by two factors: new customers in countries like India, and replacement handsets in established markets. Only about 10 percent of the population in India has a cell phone, he said, but the number is growing fast.

"There are 6 million new subscribers (in India) in some month," Goren said.

In China, where there are already 500 million cell accounts, about 200,000 cell phone accounts are opened a day, according to Ted Dean, managing director at BDA, a consulting firm.

Meanwhile, in established markets, approximately 27 percent of phones get replaced annually, Goren said. (In Europe, cell phone penetration is 106 percent, meaning that there are now more cellular nodes than people).

Some cell phone applications have not taken off as fast with the public as carriers and handset makers have hoped, he noted. In Japan, videoconferencing was supposed to take off. Phone manufacturers even produced phones with an additional camera that faces the caller to facilitate video conferencing.

The networks, though, did not allocate enough bandwidth in most places for live video streaming, and the resulting service ended up being choppy.

"In videoconferencing, you need a constant allocation of bandwidth," Goren said.

TV viewing on cell phones has also taken off more slowly than expected.