Google TV transplants Android on Intel
Anti-Apple ARM replacement
Google TV is based on Android, the (kinda) open source Google operating system originally built for ARM-equipped cell phones. But the imminent television settop platform doesn't run on ARM. Google has ported Android to Intel's CE4100, an Atom-based system-on-a-chip designed specifically for consumer electronics devices.
According to Wilfred Martis, general manager of Intel's retail consumer electronics business, it was Google who approached the chip maker about using the Atom-based SoC, which is set for use in other TV-centric devices including D-Link's Boxee Box and a contraption from Telecom Italia. "We were building the part, and they picked it to run Google TV because it had what they wanted," Martis tells The Reg. "They came to us."
The CE4100 surrounds the Atom core with two 1080p video decoders, two audio digital signal processors (DSPs), a 3D graphics engine, a security engine, and I/O. Martis says the chip's great talent is its knack for synchronizing audio and video. "You have to get audio and video in solid sync," he says. "On a PC, the tolerance level is much lower. Consumers tolerate [problems] because it's a PC. On a handheld, it's the same thing. They don't tolerate it on a TV screen."
With Google TV, he says, the SoC's core is reserved for running the OS and local applications, while audio and video tasks are offloaded to the surrounding circuitry.
Intel first entered the consumer electronics market in 2003, purposing its PC processors. MSN TV boxes, for instance, used Intel silicon. And in 2007, it introduced SoCs built expressly for consumer electronics devices. These XScale chips turned up in settop boxes across Asia, including in China and Taiwan.
In 2008, Intel introduced a chip based on the Pentium-M, and the CE4100 is their first consumer electronics chip based on Atom. Manufactured on a 45nm process, it will make its stateside debut by the end of the month when Logitech ships its Google TV settop, the Logitech Revue. The chip also sits at the heart of Sony's Google TV setup, due to be announced next week. And though Intel is partnering with other manufacturers on Google TV devices, Martis declined to name those outfits.
Whereas Google is moving from ARM to Intel for its TV contraption, Apple is moving in the opposite direction. The first Apple TV used an Intel chip, but in switching the device to iOS — the operating system that runs the iPhone and the iPad — the Jobsian cult is also switching to ARM, the compute core in Cupertino's A4 chip. But Martis wouldn't rule out an Intel return to Apple TV. "Is there something there longterm? Maybe," he says. "It depends on which way they go."
Apple's device takes a very different approach to the so-called connected TV. Google TV puts Mountain View's desktop Chrome browser on top of Android, providing unfettered access to the interwebs and — eventually — running any number of third-party local applications. Apple TV is a walled
prison garden that gives you access only to stuff Steve Jobs approves of.
Unlike Google TVs, Apple TV only does 720p video. But it's priced at only $99. The Logitech Revue is $299.99, a price tag you can't help but chuckle at. Martis says this has nothing to do with Intel. "The reason some of these boxes have high prices is not because of Intel," he says. "We are using budgetary pricing." ®
No. Just. No. Please.
Agreed with Raz. I've NEVER EVER had audio sync problems. With mplayer, things stay perfectly synced, and an AthlonXP with NO hardware assistance can play 720p and some 1080p videos with no frame drop. With frame drop, it'll do 1080p at about 20fps. With hardware assistance? Honestly, "even" an Atom? You could play 1080p on a Pentium 2 -- the decoder does all the work.
Regarding this platform -- I think ARM is a better CPU than Atom. But... Android is all Linuxy and portable, it's not tied to any particular CPU (like Windows tied to x86, or WindowsCE tied to ARM) so porting Android to Intel was probably not too hard. For something like a set top box, having the goodies it needs integrated trumps having a better CPU. Probably a dual HD decoder (to play video), and 3D accelerator (if the GUI is blinged) will do most of the work; traditionally the CPU does audio decoding but the DSP could do that. That leaves very little for the CPU to do.
To put things in perspective, the Tivo Series 1 used a 54mhz PowerPC with 16MB of RAM. Since it had a MPEG2 encoder & MPEG2 decoder, and some good enough video hardware, the CPU basically handled scheduling and the program guide. I never owned one but when I used my friend's it was not only acceptable but actually pretty snappy.
Isn't the non-ARM "cheaper" box going to cost around $299; as opposed to the ARMy "expensive" Apple gadget costing around $100?
Yeah, it's a bit crap that Apple isn't going the 1080p route - I thought Apple was supposed to be all "wow-and-then-some", but the way I see it, your cheaper solution costs three times more.