There’s a new buzzworthy term in the industry and it goes by the abbreviation FPGA. So, what is this FPGA and why has it become trendy?
FPGA refers to a silicon integrated circuit device called Field Programmable Gate Array, which has been around for some time and is highly used with any form of digital application. Needless to say, it can play a pretty big role with HDMI. The FPGA is a vastly flexible piece of technology that can be programmed to do almost any sort of digital logic job. When it comes to complex and high-speed signal processing tasks, the FPGA is our go-to solution.
How does the FPGA fit into this picture? How can we make these two seemingly different technologies dance in step and deliver performance, lower costs, and condensed form factors to any HDMI product?
If there were FPGA for an artist, it would be like a digital canvas where the artist has total control and is free of all obstacles to bring to life a painting from just abstracting within their mind. This is the power that FPGA has in digital electronics and with HDMI it is a perfect fit. FPGAs have massive amounts of internal cells that can be configured to do just about anything digital.
It can switch, it can multiplex, and it can do both at the same time as it’s used with Picture-in-Picture features in our displays or any matrix switch devices you may work with. It is kind of having a reusable ASIC that in an instant can be transformed into another type of application.
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Obviously, the power behind these chips is enormous and has made it possible to develop new designs and prototypes as if they were the final product. For instance, an FPGA can be used to develop a series of multiple circuits and functions just by writing the correct code for the device type employed. You must be good at it but when you are, you have the power of many engineers and not just one.
I can remember seeing a very popular device still used by integrators today at CES better than 10 years ago. It had a 12×14-inch chassis and performed beyond anyone could imagine. Today, that device can be found condensed to the size of a pack of cigarettes and its cost has been reduced to less than 10% from the prototype cost.
It uses a hardware description language called VHDL (VHSIC Hardware Description Language), with VHSIC meaning Very-High-Speed-Integrated Circuit. Rather than writing codes to perform specific tasks, FPGA VHDL allows us to describe what we want our ASICs or FPGAs to do, so let’s break it down.
Think of FPGA VHDL as the ultimate digital architect. Just as an architect creates blueprints for buildings, we use VHDL to create the blueprint for a circuit schematic. It can be a series of Flip-Flops programmed by the software, which looks a bit like old BASIC. When you think of an architect and his building, Flip-Flops represent the bricks when the completed build is done.
The point is many of the electronics we use in everyday work have become so complex with super processing speed, installers should respect their use and limitations if there are any. This is all good as long as the software is debugged correctly. Remember, software engineers can write with their own personal flair can spell trouble when used in foreign system environment. But VHDL can be changed and upgraded at any time. With this little part, an engineer does not have to start from scratch every time a change is needed. It’s perfect!
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