The constrained automotive turf offers unique opportunities for video innovations that could pave the way for more sophisticated car head units
Like many of you, I spend the most amount of time inside my car, when away from work or home. The saving grace is, while not yet the living room on wheels that it could be in a few years, the average car is chock-full of lifestyle, entertainment and convenience options. The car dash or head unit however significantly trails behind its more illustrious counterpart – the smartphone, which has become fairly simple to engineer with standard hardware components and Android. But delve a little deeper and we realize there is more to this than meets our eyes.
Car head units, built upon constrained (read significantly inferior) platforms, and working to fulfil several tough automotive requirements, might actually be smarter than our smartphone in some ways. And video could pave the way for further innovations in automotive infotainment systems.
Car Head Units: Top Challenges
Car head units are still a far cry from our smartphones, primarily because automotive engineers are tied down by the following factors while designing and deploying infotainment systems:
Reliability: Average smartphone users in the US use their phone for only 21 months. In contrast, the average car lasts for about 11.6 years. This implies that an automotive head unit typically outlasts the car, indicating a massive 4-5x increase in life expectancy in comparison with a smartphone. Unlike a mobile engineer, the automotive engineer thus operates with very different and tougher reliability parameters.
Heat dissipation: Infotainment systems must dissipate much lower heat and operate in much harsher temperature ranges. Overheating is simply not an option – ever.
Lower cost: With tougher competition, car OEMs are unable to extract a higher price through superior automotive infotainment. Differentiation is harder to achieve and often undervalued by the consumer.
Maintenance: With a ‘fit and forget’ expectation from consumers and lack of adequate connectivity, most automotive dash units do not enjoy the luxury of high frequency updates and upgrades typical to smartphones.
These requirements of higher reliability, lower cost and lower heat dissipation further translate to very limited platform options for automotive engineers.
Automotive Platform and Processor Constraints
Several mobile designers today work with the likes of Samsung Exynos 8895 or the Qualcomm snapdragon 835 chipset. On the other hand, some of our automotive customers are working with the relatively humble DRA75x (Jacinto J6) from Texas Instruments to deploy an ‘advanced’, ‘state-of-the-art’ automotive infotainment system.
To put things in perspective, here is a quick comparison between the Exynos 8895 and DRA75x.
|CPU Core||Custom + Arm Cortex A53||Arm Cortex A15|
|CPU Configuration||4x 2.5GHz Samsung M2
4x 1.7GHz Cortex-A53
|2x 1.2GHz Cortex-A15|
Up to 375 GFLOPS
|Video Playback Formats
|HEVC (H.265), H.264, VP9||H.264|
|Video Playback Performance
|4K UHD @ 120fps||HD 1080p @ 60fps|
The gaps, as we see, are pretty stark. If we focus on video performance, the Exynos delivers 8x higher processing, while the Jacinto doesn’t even support HEVC or VP9. If we purely consider the processing power (dual Cortex A15 @ 1.2GHz), the Jacinto J6 is rather equivalent to the mobile processors discussed circa 2011.
But for an objective big-picture perspective, consider the following advantages offered by automotive platforms and processors:
Power consumption: Although power numbers are closely guarded by chipset vendors, we can safely assume that the Jacinto delivers 4-5x lower Thermal Design Power (TDP) based on the number of cores deployed.
Automotive grade: A silicon vendor ensures high degree of compliance to the defined operating temperature range and Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF). Typical mobile chipsets do not make this cut.
Production supply guarantee: Automotive vendors usually guarantee availability of the processor for 7-15 years (sometimes more). Good luck with getting even a fraction of that time window with the latest mobile chipset!
These factors imply that head units deliver a range of advantages, even while working under severe limitations. And the big question is – how can video help drive better innovations in the car head unit?
Redefining Infotainment Systems via Video Innovations
Video engineers are today presented with unique opportunities to innovate in this highly constrained turf. For instance, the Jacinto J6 includes Ittiam’s most complex and innovative video decoder yet. Our HEVC decoder drives highly efficient heterogeneous compute and platform optimization to enable effective HD HEVC decoding – all on a platform that is not deemed capable of such performance.
Further, processors in typical Rear Seat Entertainment (RSE) systems have even lower capabilities and cannot natively process streams from the latest DVB-T2 standard (encoded in HEVC). In response, we have created a real-time HEVC to H.264 software transcoder on the head unit to enable DVB-T2 content in the rear seat units. Such systems have traditionally been unheard of in automotive infotainment platforms.
The bottom line? The automotive turf might be highly constrained, posing several limitations and challenges. However, the need to keep up with advancements in video technology has helped catalyze a higher level of innovation in the industry, and this augurs well for the future of infotainment systems.
For deeper insights into video innovations in the automotive industry, join Mukund Srinivasan, Chief Business Officer, Ittiam at our session at Arm TechCon 2017 on October 25.
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