Tegra 2 was a platform developed primarily to serve the smartphone / tablet market. We were quite surprised earlier this year when it was chosen to power the Boxee Box. With Boxee's HTPC background, consumers were bound to have tall expectations and we were not too sure that Tegra 2 would be able to fulfil the necessary requisites.

The unit which was demonstrated at the 2010 CES did have a Tegra 2 SoC inside. Things were looking good, and the unit was slated to go into mass production towards the end of Q2. However, as Boxee started doing some stress tests, they realized that Tegra 2 wasn't living upto expectations. In particular, they found that the Tegra 2 was incapable of playing back high profile 1080p H.264 videos at even 10 Mbps. Boxee was well aware that if they shipped the unit with any sort of limitation, it would reflect very badly upon them. They went back to the drawing board and started approaching other companies with similar chipsets. Boxee's requirements were three-fold. The platform needed acceleration for Flash, considering that most of the online video content is delivered through it. The second requirement was that the platform had to support a browser platform (WebKit), and finally, the platform had to support decode of even the most demanding video encodes. The shift from Tegra 2 to CE4100 delayed the mass production to the middle of Q4, but that was inevitable once Tegra 2 had to be replaced.

Boxee was primarily developed for HTPCs based on the x86 platform. However, the form factor of the Boxee Box ruled out any sort of a real motherboard / x86 processor inside with similar multimedia capabilities. An x86 SoC was the need of the hour, and fortunately, Intel had just released a solution. This was the Atom based CE4100, their second-generation x86 based SoC targeted at the DTV / IPTV / STB / Blu-Ray player market. Prior to the CE3100, Intel used to have SoCs based on the XScale platform. The CE3100 had a Pentium-M core, while the CE4100 has an Atom based core, but we will cover this more in detail in the next section. In the SoC space, it is not possible for Intel to have the same sort of margins that it gets in the microprocessor space. This is one of the main reasons why no mainstream products based on the Intel CE3100 were seen in the market. Promising devices such as the Yuixx were announced, but they never saw the light of the day. In the meanwhile, Intel released the next generation product (Sodaville) at the IDF in September 2010. Things are looking up for Intel now, and at $199, the Boxee Box seems to be the perfect mainstream launchpad for the CE4100.

Being a SoC, the CE4100 has all the necessary IPs built in, including a specialized GPU, a video decode accelerator and an audio DSP. The more powerful nature of the CE4100 also brought with it some design challenges for D-Link and Boxee in the form of increased power consumption and more heat to dissipate. We weren't allowed to open up the unit during the meeting yesterday, but suffice to say that we saw a pretty big heat sink through the heat dissipation vents. There is also a very small fan inside the unit, but it was very close to being completely silent. We really would have a hard time seeing people complain about this unless the fan spins up really hard under load.

Introduction The Intel CE 4100
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  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    T2 is infinitely more capable than A4.

    Boxee just didn't want to ship a streamer with such crappy specs :)
  • tipoo - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Exactly, lol...Cant wait for Cortex A9 (what the T2 is based on) smartphones to trickle down.
  • sprockkets - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Except for the fact that you are both wrong, at least on this front:

    MPEG4 is the old "divx" lame codec. You aren't going to find anything HD encoded with this, and if anybody does, they are idiots.

    Apple TV supports H.264 at the main profile (which is just high profile without 8x8 transform) and at LV 3.1, which is defined as 1280x720 at 30FPS at 14mbps max bit rate.

    But let's face it, if 2.5ghz dual core processors from Intel take around 70% of cpu time to decode 1080p WITH the deblocking filter on, what makes you think a 1ghz ARM cpu can, WITHOUT custom decoding hardware?
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Both T2 and A4 are aimed at the tablet / smartphone market. No one should expect these app processors to decode HD video on the host processor.

    While T2 uses nV's custom decode engine, Apple uses the PowerVR VXD line (which is the same as that used in the CE4100), BUT, the clocking rate is probably much lower on the A4 compared to CE4100 because it is supposed to be for mobile usage. In addition, DRAM bandwidth available on both A4 and T2 is probably not good enough for high bitrate Blu-Ray material. (They have 32b DRAM interface, while CE4100 has 64b DRAM interface).

    As for T2 vs A4, my comment was mainly on how powerful each SoC is. (On paper T2 will beat A4 hands down). As for comparing the exact video decoding abilities, it is not possible to comment for 2 reasons:

    1. Tegra 2 hasn't reached any reviewer yet.
    2. Apple will never allow any stream into the A4 device unless it goes through iTunes, in which case, it gets auto-transcoded.
  • sprockkets - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    We can if nvidia simply tells us what profile at what level it can do. At least Apple, of all people, post what exactly it can and cannot play.

    Even later firmwares of the old Cowon A3 claimed it could play HP h.264 video at 1280x720 with TI's OMAP from like 2 years ago.
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    nV has no obligation to tell that except to customers who want to use T2 in their products. Apple, on the other hand, has to, because they are selling a product directly to the consumer.

    Anyways, nV's marketing team seems to have screwed up here.

    I haven't tested Cowon A3 personally, so can't comment on that.
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Tegra 2 can play 1080p30 baseline profile level 3.1
    decent for a phone, embarrassing for an htpc.
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    No, mpeg 4 part 10 is h264.
    mpeg 4 part 2 is what you are thinking of, but it is pretty unpopular outside of people transcoding their dvd's, so when people say mpeg 4 video, its implied that they mean h264. (especially if its apple saying it)
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    oh wait, they mentioned it after a section specifically detailing h264 playback. You were right, they were referring to mpeg 4 part 2.
  • sep332 - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Isn't CIFS effectively the same as SMB?

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