Qualcomm Launches AI-Enabled Highly Integrated SoCs and Dedicated Smart Speaker Platform

March 19 2019, 13:45
Qualcomm made two important announcements for audio developers, both bound to significantly impact the fast-growing market of smart speakers and new generation whole-home audio systems. The San Diego company announced the new QCS400 family of audio SoCs and the Smart Audio Platform 400 development kit, bringing smart speakers high-performance processing, Qualcomm AI Engine, superior connectivity, and multiple advanced audio and visual display capabilities in a single, power-optimized chip architecture.

The new Qualcomm QCS400 SoCs are designed for “smart” speakers, soundbars, home assistants and AV receivers, with integrated compute, Mesh Wi-Fi, BLE Mesh, Voice-User Interface, Audio technology, and support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Security Features. A single-chip amplifier helping manufacturers to create portable and power-efficient speakers that offer truly differentiated audio quality
Until now, traditional audio manufacturers did not have the technology expertise needed to deliver powerful smart speakers, leaving the market leadership to the likes of Amazon and Google. With these new offerings, manufacturers now have access to the technology they need to bring about the next generation of smart speakers and take on the leaders.
For the consumer, this means new speakers delivering high-quality immersive audio, a more robust and faster voice assistant experience even in noisy environments, AI-based local automatic speech recognition for offline commands and extended battery life allowing for the speakers to be taken outside without disrupting the experience.

With the new QCS400 SoC series, Qualcomm Technologies combines high-performance, low-power compute capabilities with the company's latest audio technologies to help deliver highly optimized, AI-enabled solutions that are designed for smarter audio and connected applications.

The QCS400 SoCs are built to deliver evolved premium audio experiences throughout the home. They tightly integrate high-performance processing, the Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence (AI Engine), connectivity, and multiple advanced audio and visual display capabilities in a single, power-optimized chip architecture.

On smart speakers, the QCS400 SoCs support a more robust voice assistant experience with faster, smarter voice UI, even in noisy environments compared to Qualcomm's previous SoCs– including AI-based local automatic speech recognition, low-power, multi-keyword far-field voice pickup with beamforming and echo cancellation, and support for cloud-based voice assistants.

“These new SoCs raise the bar on both feature integration and power performance for smart audio compared to our previous technology. This will help manufacturers to more easily overcome significant technical challenges and build smarter speakers and assistants with more intuitive voice UI, connected user experiences and exceptional sound quality,” says Rahul Patel, senior vice president and general manager, connectivity, Qualcomm Technologies. 

“The next generation of smart audio products must be robust, highly interoperable, feature-rich, and smart, yet extremely power efficient. Qualcomm Technologies helps to meet these needs with our new SoCs, which are unique and comprehensively integrated to combine enhanced compute, AI acceleration, and low-latency audio distribution in a single chipset. These integrated solutions are designed to reduce development time of next-generation smart speakers, home assistants and soundbars.”

The new platform also supports the latest immersive audio advancements with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This high level of integration helps OEMs to more efficiently and economically create smarter audio products with richer sound quality, extended battery life and improved voice assistance capabilities.

"The Qualcomm QCS400 SoC series will enable our sound bar and AVR partners to bring Dolby Atmos experiences to more people,” says Mahesh Balakrishnan, vice president, Enhanced Audio Experiences, Dolby Laboratories. “Through this close working relationship, we are expanding the availability of best in class audio experiences.”

"We are pleased to work with Qualcomm Technologies to support our flagship immersive audio decoder, DTS:X, for their new line of SoCs for premium sound bars and Audio-Video Receivers and look toward to delivering additional DTS audio solutions on the QCS400 SoC series,” adds Joanna Skrdlant, general manager, home and solutions licensing at Xperi.

Advanced connectivity with tri-radio coexistence and low-latency audio streaming mean users can also enjoy superior music listening almost anywhere in their home. Power improvements driven on the QCS400 series support up to 25 times longer standby with voice wakeup and extended "unplugged" battery life compared to Qualcomm's previous technology, so people can take their speakers with them into the yard or even further afield and enjoy playback with voice commands for hours at a time.

Key features of the QCS400 SoC Series include:
• Highly-integrated, yet flexible, single-chip architecture - with the Qualcomm AI Engine, dual DSPs and up to four processor cores, engineered specifically for audio applications and designed to deliver substantial power efficiencies, performance improvements and flexibility for advanced feature innovation.
• On-board connectivity - industry-leading Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Support for Qualcomm aptX Adaptive designed to deliver low-latency audio streaming in the room or throughout the home, and tightly synchronized audio and visual content for a superior entertainment experience. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee coexistence is designed to allow for control of virtually all types of smart home devices, helping OEMs to design products to serve as hubs and interfaces to the smart home.
• Truly rich and immersive audio - up-to 32 channels of integrated audio processing, support for Dolby Atmos immersive audio and DTS:X as well as compatibility with Qualcomm DDFA amplifier technology and aptX audio.
• Improved Voice UI - Utilizing Qualcomm's far field voice, multi-channel echo cancellation, and high performance, low-power multi-keyword detection algorithms (Qualcomm Voice Assist), products built on the QCS400 SoCs can capture voice commands even during high-volume audio playback or from further afield.
• AI Engine – To meet the growing demands of audio processing, QCS400 SoCs support the Qualcomm AI Engine for enabling high-performance, energy efficient AI acceleration including a quad-core CPU, Qualcomm Adreno GPU and Qualcomm Hexagon DSP with Hexagon Vector eXtentions. The Qualcomm AI Engine offers support for myriad neural network frameworks including Tensorflow, PyTorch and ONNX, as well as the Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK for easily executing AI algorithms on device. This advanced AI hardware and software suite helps smart speaker and sound bar OEMs deliver a variety of robust AI-powered voice UI features.

The new SoC's were designed specifically to support reduced development time and cost. The new chipsets will be available at multiple tiers with a common architecture, allowing implementation across multiple product lines, to better utilize development resources.

The QSC400 SoCs are highly flexible and customizable using Qualcomm Technologies’ Audio Development Kit (ADK) and the Qualcomm AI Engine can be utilized by developers through the Qualcomm Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine (SNPE) Software Development Kit (SDK). Developers have the freedom to choose the cloud-based voice assistant that best suits their product vision.

Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform 400
To help streamline the process for developing a smart speaker, Qualcomm Technologies also announced the Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform 400, available as a comprehensive, customizable development kit and example design, built around the Qualcomm QCS400 SoCs.

The Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform 400 is the evolution of Qualcomm Technologies’ unique end-to-end solution designed specifically to help reduce the materials cost and development time associated with creating next-generation smart speakers.
For more information please visit www.qualcomm.com/products/qcs400-series.
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