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Is DSP still hot?

Posted: 19 Aug 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital signal processing  digital signal processor  embedded system  processor 

Bier: Twenty years from now, 'DSP' may well be passé, but DSP functionality will be anything but.

When my partners and I founded BDTI in the early 1990's, "DSP" was in the process of becoming both a hot technology and a widely used abbreviation.

When you speak of DSP, it meant two distinct things: digital signal processing and digital signal processor. You could usually figure out which one was meant by the context, but in some ways they were interchangeable—if you were doing digital signal processing, you were probably doing it on a digital signal processor.

Today, DSP in both senses is ubiquitous. It's tough to find an embedded system that doesn't do some type of digital signal processing, and it's quite difficult to look for an embedded processor that doesn't have DSP-oriented architectural features. In a sense, all processors have to be "DSPs" now. You'd think the DSP abbreviation would be everywhere—but instead, it seems to be losing its cachet.

Losing the abbreviation
The major DSP companies like Texas Instruments Inc. and Analog Devices Inc. don't use the abbreviation as much as they once did. In recent years, their press releases talk more about "video processors" or "multimedia chips" or "convergence processors" (all of which do digital signal processing, of course).

We rarely see software houses advertising their "DSP" software components anymore; they market things like audio post-processing algorithms instead. These days, it is not uncommon for us to find ourselves explaining that video processing for surveillance applications comes under the umbrella of DSP, or that our "DSP" benchmarks are relevant to multimedia applications.

Growing diversity
Signal processing applications have become so diverse, and the DSP portions so tightly interwoven with the non-DSP portions, that the whole industry is shifting to more of an application focus. We are seeing the "DSP industry" splinter into many sub-industries, each with unique and diverse requirements for both hardware and software.

BDTI used to focus on "DSP processors" and work with a relatively limited scope of chips and software. Now we find ourselves working with a very broad swath of technologies, in terms of chips, algorithms, systems and tools.

I'm sure the same can be said for any company involved in signal processing—even those that don't necessarily consider themselves DSP companies.

We expect that DSP will be more widely used for different purposes and products, although the term itself will become less common. Twenty years from now, DSP may well be passé, but DSP functionality will be anything but.

- Jeff Bier
Berkeley Design Technology Inc

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