June 9, 2015

NC393 progress update: HDL code for sensor channels is ported or re-written

by Andrey Filippov

Quick update: a new chunk of code is added to the NC393 camera FPGA project. It is a second (of three needed to match the existing NC353 functionality) major parts of the system after the memory controller is finished. This code is just written, it still has to be verified by the simulation first, and then by synthesizing and by running it on the actual hardware. We plan to do that when the third part – image compressors will be ported to the new system too. The added code deals with receiving data from the image sensors and pre-processing it before storing in the video memory. FPGA-based systems are very flexible and many other configurations like support of multi-lane serial interface sensors or using several camera ports to connect a single large high-speed sensor are possible and will be implemented later. The table below summarizes parameters of the current code only.

Table 1. NC393 Sensor Connections and Pre-processing
Feature Value
Number of sensor ports 4
Total number of multiplexed sensors 16
Total number of multiplexed sensors with existing 10359 multiplexer board 12
Sensor interface type (implemented in HDL) parallel 12 bits
Sensor interface hardware compatibility parallel LVCMOS/serial differential 8 lanes + clock
Sensor interface voltage levels programmable up to 3.3V
Number of I²C sequencers 4 (1 per port)
Number of I²C sequencers frames 16
Number of I²C sequencers commands per frame 64
I²C sequencers commands data width 16/8 bits
Image data width stored 16/8 bits per pixel
Gamma conversion regions per port 4
Histograms: number of rectangular ROI (Regions of Interest) per port 4
Histograms: number of color channels 4
Histograms: number of bins per color 256
Histograms: width per bin 18 or 32 bits
Histograms: number of histograms stored per sensor 16

Up to 4 sensor channel modules can be instantiated in the camera, one per each of the sensor ports. In most applications all ports will run at the same clock frequency, but each of them can use a different clock and so heterogeneous sensors can be attached if needed. Current modules support 12 bit parallel data (such as Aptina MT9P006 we currently use), 8-lane+clock serial differential interface will be added later.

Sensor modules include programmable delay elements on each input line to optimize sampling of the data and a small FIFO to compensate for the phase variations between the system free running clocks and the sensor output clocks influenced by the sensors and optional multiplexer PLLs.

Similarly to the NC353 sensor modules contain dedicated I²C sequencers. These sequencers allow to synchronize I²C commands sent to the sensors with the sensor frame sync signals, they also reduce response time requirements to the software – the commands to be issued can be scheduled ahead of time to be executed at the certain frame number.

Each of the sensor channels is designed to be compatible with a sensor multiplexer, such as the 10359 used in the current Elphel multi-sensor cameras. These boards connect to three sensor boards and present themselves to the system as a single large sensor. Images are acquired simultaneously by all 3 imagers, one is immediately routed downstream and the two others are stored in the on-board memory. After the first image is transferred to the camera system board, data from the other two sensors is read from the memory and transferred in the same format as received from the sensors, so the system board receives data as if from the sensor with 3 times more lines. What is different in the NC393 camera code in comparison with NC353 is that now code is aware of the multiplexers and is able to apply different conversion to each sub-image and calculate histograms (used for autoexposure and white balance) for each sub-image. Current NC353 camera (and multisensor cameras based on the same design) have the same settings for the whole composite image coming from the multiplexer and have only one histogram window of interest.

Channel modules and parameterized and can be fine-tuned for particular applications to reduce resource usage. For example, the histogram modules can be either 18 (sufficient in most cases) or full 32 bit wide, histogram data may be buffered (required only for sensor with very small vertical blanking when using full frame histogram WOI) or not buffered. Depending on these settings either 1 or two block RAM hard macros are instantiated.

Histogram data generated from all 4 ports (from up to 16 sensors) is transferred to the system memory, and each of the 16 channels store data for the last 16 frames acquired. This multi-frame data storage eases timing requirements to the software that processes the histograms. This data is sent over the general purpose S_AXI_GP0 port. This medium-speed interface is quite adequate for this amount of data, high speed 64-bit wide AXI_HP* are reserved for the higher bandwidth image transfers.

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