If They Build the Chips Will the Universal Players Come?

With the proliferation of audio and video formats based on the 5.25" disc (CD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD-R, CD-V, DVD, etc), buying a universal player that can decode anything thrown at it is many a consumer's Holy Grail. But to date, the vast majority of manufacturers (Pioneer being a notable exception) have been taking sides, choosing to exclude either SACD or DVD-Audio playback from their machines.

But the universal player dream is still alive and getting a boost from ESS Technology, who last week introduced its third-generation DVD/multimedia chip. ESS says that the new DVD multimedia processor, the ES4438, is based on the company's Programmable Multimedia Processor (PMP) architecture, integrated with an NTSC/PAL TV encoder for a single-chip design. According to ESS, the chip's architecture includes two embedded processors: a 32-bit RISC CPU for general system management and a 64-bit digital signal processor (DSP) for audio/video and graphics acceleration. The company adds that the programmable core is flexible in order to accommodate future applications and feature development.

And here's the good part: This DVD chip's full set of features includes DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, MP3, CD-DA, VCD, SVCD, DVD, Dolby Digital, Dolby ProLogic, DTS decoding, progressive scan output, Internet web browsing, and more. ESS says that the ES4438 also integrates karaoke functions, 3D sound effects, and adaptive differential pulse code modulation (ADPCM) for voice recording.

According to ESS, the ES4438 is completely DVD-Audio compliant and includes multichannel Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) audio decoding, linear pulse code modulation (LPCM) audio decoding, up to 192kHz sampling rates and 24-bit resolution, high-resolution still pictures, and DVD-Audio navigation. The bad news: The chip also supports audio watermark detection and copy protection for prerecorded media (CPPM).

ESS's William K. Wong explains that the reduced system costs resulting from one-chip solutions will help "drive the consumer market. We believe that the ES4438 DVD single-chip solution will lead the industry in fulfilling the demand in the digital audio/video market." The company says that the ES4438 will be sampled to customers in June, with production commencing in the second half of 2001.