Avivo has been heard of under a few different working titles before, briefly being known as "Clarity", but more often heard of as "Kaleidoscope". The Kaleidoscope codename has often been linked with ATI's R520 generation of graphics products, although the term "Clarity" may actually give a little more clues as to its functionality.

Although, for the most part, Avivo will bear much relevance to ATI's graphics hardware the term is actually an umbrella title spanning multiple products and technologies. Rather than loosing Avivo technology under the noise of the of the next generation graphics reviews, ATI have decided to brief and announce the technology separately beforehand, giving a insight into Avivo and its capabilities prior to the release of their next generation products.

Avivo: The Video and Display Pipeline

As we said, the Avivo banner encompasses a number of elements all to do with the video and display pipeline.

Rather than keeping it to just the decode and display elements, ATI are also bringing the encode solutions under the Avivo banner, which currently exist as separate products to those that include the decode and display functionality. In everyday usage, different devices routinely handle different elements of the pipeline - in the example of a PVR it will handle the capture, encode, decode and post process functions of the video processing pipeline while the TV will handle the display functionality, or in the example of a portable media device the PC may be used to handle the capture and encode functionality while the media device will handle the decode, post process and display stages. Even in the within PC environment, a PC / Media Center being used for PVR functionality can have elements of the processing being placed on different hardware components, such as the capture and encode functionality being handled by a TV Tuner / Capture board and the decode, post process and display functionality being handled by the graphics board. The reason ATI have decided to have the Avivo brand cover all these elements is because they are in the presently unique situation of having their own solutions all the way from one end of the pipeline to the other, and their solutions can draw heavily from the Theater and Xilleon products which routinely sell in their millions due to them being sold in numerous consumer devices.

Capture & Encode

Analogue capture is the process of demodulating the video signal from the carrier signal and then digitizing it by the use of Analog to Digital converters and a video decoder - this part of the process has traditionally been the domain of ATI's Theater products. As the capture process is the very beginning of the video pipeline, the quality here will dictate the maximum quality of the the video playback, hence ATI have moved a number technologies into their latest capture products in order to ensure high capture quality:

  • Automatic Gain Control: Automatically boosts the signal (increases the gain) to attempt to give the correct balance for the output and avoid washed out colours.
  • 12-bit analogue to digital converters: Higher quality ADC's are used in order to minimise loss if fine detail.
  • 3D Comb Filtering: Comb filtering separates the colour and brightness signals in video sources that transmit these together; 2D comb filters just separate these within a single image, but 3D filters also applies a third dimension of time which should result in a cleaner image with less colour bleed.
  • Hardware noise reduction: Assist to remove graininess from the image (which can also increase the resultant compression ratio of the encoded image).

Encoding is the process of compressing the the now digitized video stream into a specific video codec - PC users will know of many codecs, such as WMV, DiVX, MPEG-4, etc. - however one of the most popular schemes as the moment is MPEG-2. MPEG-2 compression is currently the standard mechanism for Media Center PC's which constantly encode the video signal, even when it is just being watched "live", so quality encoding is required, preferably with dedicated hardware to reduce the CPU overhead.

ATI's latest Theater product, Theater 550 PRO, is responsible for both the analogue capture and MPEG-2 encoding of the pipeline, and more about this product can be read in our review here. With full hardware MPEG-2 encode our review shows that the CPU utilisation is significantly reduced, resulting in lower power consumption and more spare CPU power left for other simultaneous tasks.

Theater 550 PRO was designed as a stand alone device, so at present there have been none of ATI's "All-In-Wonder", single board solutions available with it, meaning that current All-In-Wonder products have relied on software MPEG encoding - ATI's next generation Theater product, currently expected some time next year, will combine the hardware encode capabilities (and inevitably enhance on them) with a video port that can communicate directly with ATI's graphics chips in order for full, single board hardware encode and decode capabilities to be supported.

MPEG-2 will likely remain as the standard encode format for ATI's products for some time to come, but other formats may be required by end users, so to meet this need ATI will be providing graphics assisted transcoding routines (altering from one video codec to another).