The Cell is best known as the processor that lies at the heart of Sony’s Playstation 3 games console. But that was never intended to be the only home for the Cell processor, jointly developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba. The Cell’s unique architecture make it incredibly good at chewing through multiple streams of multimedia data. Now, Toshiba appears to be finally getting a return on its investment with the unveiling of a prototype Cell-based set-top box for its line of TVs.
The set-top box is designed to attack a knotty problem for TV makers — watching non-HD media (such as a DVD) on a HD television set can often be a poor experience, as enlarging the low resolution material to fill the screen also enlarges flaws and video compression artifacts unnoticeable on earlier generations of TVs. The solution is known as upconverting, and it involves processing the incoming video feed in real time to smooth out flaws and interpolate new pixels to fill in gaps between original pixels. (As the resolution of TVs continues to climb, in a few years we’ll even need to start upconverting 1080p HD television signals!)
Toshiba is very proud of its upconverting technology, and hopes to improve it even further by taking advantage of the Cell’s video-crunching capabilities. The Cell can make three processing passes on a frame of video in the time it takes Toshiba’s current system to make one. The new set top box will also act as a DVR, allowing up to 6 HD channels to be recorded simultaneously, and be able to pull down video from the Internet. Toshiba hope to release the system sometime this year.