Is the future as good as it used to be?

Today the ARM® Mali™-DP500 Display Processor was launched alongside the ARM Cortex®-A17.

We are all aware that the resolution of screens is increasing: from Full HD smartphones and Quad HD tablets to Ultra HD TVs. However, simply increasing the number of pixels on the display does not result in a proportionately  improved viewing experience if, at the same time, we do not also upgrade the capabilities of the hardware driving the screen.

Mali-DP500 is a high specification Display Processor supporting multi-layer composition, scaling, colour conversion and control for a wide range of displays up to 4K - all packed into a very small silicon area.

So, why did ARM choose to invest in this new product area?

From talking to our partners we have seen an increasing challenge in this space.

Imagine the scenario. You’ve just got samples of your SoC back. The pressure is on to deliver that first demo at CES and you have an impressive list of target customers. Your software team have been looking forward to this day for months – the day they bring the SoC to life. However, early on in the process you run into a number of challenges:

  • Your video processor does not have its own MMU and on top of that your engineers do not know the ideal memory alignment for each of the components. Negotiating the memory allocation to get an acceptable level of efficiency is taking a considerable amount of time.
  • Next, your composition engine doesn’t support Android™ Pre-multiplication or Fences and this is causing major system bottlenecks. Once again, you have to put your smartest software guys on solving this.
  • Then your lead engineer tells you he doesn’t know “which way is up”. OpenGL® ES origin is bottom left of the screen. Display origin is top left. He’s right, which way is up?
  • When you finally get a passable Android ported to this platform, a new version of Android hits the market which requires some major software changes. You need your best software guys again.

That demo at CES is definitely at risk: delivery dates are slipping and your customers are starting to look to your competition.  And fundamentally, you have had no time or engineering bandwidth to create a differentiated product.

Sound familiar?

I’m reminded of a song by an obscure 1990’s Baltimore band The Tinklers called “The future is not as good as it used be”. They bemoan the fact that their childhood vision of a future world - where we all speak Esperanto, eat pills with 16 inch pizzas inside and only work 3 days a week because robots do everything for us – just didn’t turn out that way.

The ARM Mali-DP500 is a strong addition to our multimedia processing family.  It facilitates the use of important, bandwidth-saving technologies like AFBC across all major processing elements and simplifies the deployment of end-to-end security for our partners.

However, when you combine this with our software support it makes a game-changing solution for customers. ARM is now able to provide a complete Android multimedia software stack – drivers optimized for ARM CPU, GPU, Video and Display. This software stack will reduce the time that partners spend addressing challenges that are common across the industry - like pre-multiplication,  Android Fences and the latest Android releases. Having a complete set of multimedia processing units and associated software which will all work together efficiently straight out of the box means our partners can spend more time on differentiating their products. davidsben's accompanying blog Do Androids have nightmares of botched system integrations? expands on this and really is a must-read.

Integrated Android Stack.png

Here’s another scenario. Imagine you are entering digits into your phone to transfer some money; in a poorly secured device a rogue application can take over the screen and “trick” you into typing more 0’s simply by displaying only every other zero. You end up transferring $10,000 instead of $100. It’s that song again!

Another distinctive feature of the ARM Mali-DP500 is the built-in support for ARM TrustZone® technology. TrustZone enables secure transactions on your mobile device in situations such as payment. The ARM Mali-DP500 can be programmed from a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) so that a secure screen which cannot be overwritten by a rogue software application is always on the top of the display. This gives a user confidence that what they see on screen is what they expect and prevents software attacks from compromising your phone or tablet.


When ARM is your partner, we provide all the advanced and power efficient multimedia hardware and software you need to build upon, freeing you up to innovate and create novel products that change the world. So, is the future as good as it used to be [1] – no of course not, it’s better!

- Chris

[1] Ironically, the only part of the song to come true is the line “picture telephones that let you look at to whom you are talking”

Graphics & Multimedia blog