CHIP DESIGNER Wolfson has announced the WM5100 audio chip, which it claims is the industry's first audio system-on-chip (SoC).
Wolfson designs audio chips that end up in many of the high-end smartphones that are on sale today, including units such as Samsung's Galaxy S. The WM5100 represents an aggregation of several discrete chips into a single package. The SoC incorporates the multi-channel audio hub, two way noise cancellation and a multi-core programmable digital signal processor all into a single package.
Andy Brannan, CCO of Wolfson told The INQUIRER, "The WM5100 is an amalgamation of two years of work to bring standalone parts into a single chip." Duncan Macadie, product line manager for Audio Hub Solutions at Wolfson said that by putting everything onto a single chip "device manufacturers may save between 10 and 30 per cent on circuit board space".
Macadie said that by going down the SoC route device manufacturers can also expect power and heat reductions along with significantly less time spent on developing code to create 'audio signatures'. Brannan explained that firms are looking for a particular audio signature to go with their brand in order to distinguish their handsets. To help them do that Brannan said that Wolfson is providing both the development software and the toolchain so they can get to grips with the WM5100.
With smartphone and tablet users demanding more from their devices, Macadie explained that device designers have to provide "the lowest possible power consumption, with conference call clarity that is found on wired Polycom handsets and better Skype voice and video calling than ever before". He singled out multi-party conference calls as one of the hardest tasks that an audio chip can undertake, with multiple sources of background noise and different microphone positions creating a lot of work for the chip.
Brannan said that Wolfson is sampling the WM5100 to device makers now and that typically chips will be integrated into consumer products within nine months. At this point Brannan said that it is looking like high-end smartphones will have the WM5100, though he does not rule out feature phones getting the firm's latest chip, saying that the choice is up to the device maker not Wolfson.
From a consumer point of view the space savings that device makers achieve with Wolfson's WM5100 could translate into increased onboard memory. It is unlikely that devices will become much thinner or smaller as phone size is now largely determined by the display and battery sizes and whether it has a hardware keyboard.
Nevertheless it looks like audio chips will be going down the SoC route just like processors in order to save power and space, and ultimately will reduce the effort required by both hardware and software developers to make greater use of the chip. µ