Creating semiconductors for global markets with design and engineering excellence

Creating semiconductors for global markets with design and engineering excellence

Creating semiconductors for global markets with design and engineering excellence

Published Date & Time: 
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 14:00
News Organisation: 
Science & Technology Gazette


Andre Bouwer, Vice President of Marketing, Analogix Semiconductor 

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Santa Clara, California, Analogix designs and manufactures semiconductors for the digital multimedia market, from smartphones, tablets and notebooks, to high-definition displays and media playback accessories. Its IP cores, full custom ASICs, and off-the-shelf ICs provide end-to-end connectivity through industry-standard interfaces like DisplayPort, HDMI, USB, and are found in millions of today’s most popular consumer electronics devices.

From the start, the company has relied on design and engineering excellence, teaming up with talented individuals to create semiconductors for global markets. Its global team has now reached 250 people spread across geographies with engineering operation in Beijing, China, and design and sales offices in Korea and Japan.

Nearly a decade ago, Analogix pioneered the development of the DisplayPort standard, an innovative digital interface for high-resolution video and audio developed by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). Analogix provided the physical layer (PHY) for the initial DisplayPort proof of concept systems, and delivered to market the first VESA certified DisplayPort transmitter. Since then, the company has shipped more than one billion DisplayPort devices, becoming the leading supplier of DisplayPort semiconductors for phones, tablets, and PCs.

With manufacturers opting for DisplayPort over USB-C for their flagship devices due to its capability to deliver the highest resolutions at the lowest power, Analogix’s SlimPort-branded products are the leading connectivity solution for mobile applications that require simultaneous transmission of high-resolution video, audio, USB data, and power. The company has shipped more than 10 million DisplayPort over USB-C controllers and transmitters into mobile devices and accessories featuring USB-C ports, even though the USB PD and USB Type-C Cable and Connector Specification were just released in early 2016.

Given the adoption of USB Type-C in mobile devices, it is very important for chips to be able to reduce power and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Also, it is essential for any transmitter IC, such as the DisplayPort transmitters that Analogix produces, to be integrated with the application processor (AP) that is being used. Analogix works closely with leading CPU and AP makers, such as Qualcomm, Mediatek and others, to produce reference hardware and software that allows a fast time-to-market.

In February 2016, Analogix introduced SlimPort ANX7688, the first single-chip mobile transmitter to support 4K 60 frames per second (4096x2160p60) or FHD 120 frames per second (1920x1080p120) video resolution from a smartphone or tablet with full function USB-C, ideal for applications such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality(VR) which require superior video processing and performance.

The availability of its ANX7440/30 family was announced in August 2016, as the first integrated solution capable of switching DisplayPort version 1.3 and 1.4 at 8.1 gigabits per second (Gbps), as well as USB 3.1 Generation 2 (Gen2) 10 Gbps signals to support a single USB-C port. 10 Gbps data rates enable faster communication between devices raising the bar in many applications. For example, using the ANX7440/30 greatly improves performance of USB 3.1 external hard drives connected through a docking station. Also, DisplayPort over USB-C allows devices to output video resolutions up to 8Kx4K which is one of the key elements in delivering an immersive VR or AR experience. ANX7440/30’s ability to recover and reinstate high-speed signals reduces the thickness and enables longer cables to be used in these applications.

“We have a strong capability to manage very high-speed signals with reduced power consumption so that they can be used in battery powered mobile devices. We are committed to remaining at the state-of-the-art in this area – to be ready with the high-speed digital video interfaces when they are needed by various products such as connected AR/VR,” said Andre Bouwer, vice president of marketing for Analogix.

Connected portable VR is the ideal approach for providing the best performance and mobility without the burden of additional hardware cost or licensing fees. More and more sensors and cameras are being added in VR headsets and a connected VR headset allows the cost of these additional VR sensors to be removed from the phone.

“As we have seen, the VR industry will spread to smartphones. The ‘Google Cardboard’ approach, which the phone itself sits in front of your eyes, will be replaced with a ‘Connected VR’ approach, where the phone is in your pocket and a thin wire connects to the head mounted display (HMD). That is, the audio headsets that we use today will slowly be replaced by audio/video HMD. This will enable any consumer to experience VR or AR,” noted Bouwer. “A similar trend is happening in PC VR. Today the PC connects to the HMD via two cables – a USB cable and an HDMI cable. Of course the Full-Featured USB Type-C cable offers the same functionality and therefore it makes sense to replace two cables with one USB-C cable.”

At CES 2017, the company announced their SlimPort ANX753x/7580 family of VR/AR head-mounted display controllers, the first DisplayPort to Quad MIPI-DSI controllers supporting up to 120 frames per second (FPS), leveraging Analogix’s long history of products and technology development in low-power, high-speed Serializer/Deserializer (SERDES). The ANX753x/7580 product family can be used in USB Type-C and non-USB Type-C applications and can manipulate a variety of video scan modes giving headset manufacturers the flexibility to differentiate their products by offering the most optimized performance for the markets they serve, whether that is gaming, 360 degree and 3D movies, or AR productivity.

With SlimPort, the phone’s architecture stays optimized and smart, and Analogix is prepared to support new market opportunities in VR display hardware, peripherals, and content capture.

Analogix’shigh-performance mixed-signal semiconductors applications expand beyond that however. The company’s innovative mobile display controllers in the form of specialized timing controllers (TCONs)combine performance and reliability with low power and low cost for multiple display applications, using proprietary technologies such as:

  • RapidLink delivers instantaneous clock recovery allowing for instant wake-up of the mobile device screen by eliminating the need for link training;
  • QuietLink reduces DisplayPort voltage swing which minimizes power consumption and reduces Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI);
  • WideEye provides improved DisplayPort signal recovery which ensures that the panel can work with the full range of DisplayPort sources in the market;
  • Gapless architecture minimizes the power consumption of high-resolution mobile displays, while providing continuous flow of video to the display, regardless of the state of the CPU, GPU, battery or other components in the system.

Analogix’s TCON technology strengths include expertise in DisplayPort, High Bit Rate 2 (HBR2), Panel Self Refresh (PSR), Media Buffer Optimization (MBO), Adaptive Sync, LCD Overdrive, and Assertive Display (a trademark of Apical), allowing manufacturers to build lower-power, higher-resolution products that provide an immersive entertainment experience, such as the world’s highest resolution monitors –4Kx2K and 5Kx3K –  powered by Analogix TCONs.

A third area of expertise is Intellectual Property (IP).Analogix offers a wide range of video transmitter and receiver IP cores supporting DisplayPort, HDMI, MIPI standards, as well as comprehensive USB-C Power Delivery/Port Controller, VESA Display Stream Compression (DSC), and Video DRM security solutions.  Compatible with a variety of silicon geometries and processes down to 16nm FinFet, Analogix IP are used in over 1 billion system-on-chip (SoC) products in mobile, consumer and computing applications.

In May 2016 Analogix announced a technology licensing agreement with LG Electronics for Analogix’s full function USB-C technology IP and most recently, in October 2016, the company announced its collaboration with MediaTek Inc., combining MediaTek’s advanced, feature-rich System-on-Chip (SoC) and Analogix’s DisplayPort technology for best-in-class multimedia solutions.

Devices with USB-C ports can achieve transmission of data, video and power over a single connector. However, products from various manufacturers might not be compatible with each other.

The beautiful thing about USB-C is that so much functionality is possible while still remaining backward compatible with a basic level of USB functionality.

Notebook computers are adding more than one USB-C connector. For example, a particular notebook might have three USB-C ports, one of which supports DisplayPort over USB-C, and the other two are data only. A similar comment is true of power charging. Some ports will support battery charging through the USB-C connector, while other ports are data only. All the possibilities will exist for the near future. This may result in confusion when PC users do not know which port is the right one for the function they are trying to perform. Different manufacturers are taking different strategies to deal with this. The USB Forum recommends the use of logos, such as a DisplayPort logo, to indicate the functionalities of each port.

Smart phones are a different story, since there is only room for one connector. In this case the question becomes which phones support DisplayPort and which don’t. There is never going to be space for a logo on the phone.

Analogix has created the SlimPort Adopters Program (SAP) to answer the question of compatibility between devices. The company is committed to buying every device that supports DisplayPort over USB-C and testing them with each other. The SAP test includes both protocol compliance and device interoperability. In the near future the results will be posted on as devices become available so that consumers can be educated about the capabilities of the products they are considering buying.

What’s in the future for Analogix?

“Our market position is good. It’s definitely a direction of growth and we’ll continue to develop innovative technology and look beyond what people see as the future today,” noted Andre Bouwer.