Versatile System Design for Medical Video Applications: A Blueprint

High-performance engines from Intel’s embedded roadmap, along with powerful graphics cards to capture a variety of medical modality and camera images, offer an ideal platform for medical video wall applications.

By Allen Sha, American Portwell Technology

The Opportunity
An increasing number of modern surgical operations benefit from the advanced computing technologies adopted in hospital operating rooms and specifically in the controls rooms where technicians assist surgeons and nurses to control various medical, surgical and diagnostic instruments used in the operating room. To provide this aid, the technicians need to view multiple real-time images and video feeds from a variety of specialized equipment such as C-arm, endoscope, intravascular ultrasound (IVUS), surgical navigation systems, video cameras and more. Most establish hospitals—particularly university hospitals—also provide interactive training by displaying real-time images or videos on video walls in their video conference rooms, auditoriums or classrooms so that students can view surgical procedures live outside of the operating room. These video capabilities can also be used for grand rounds, live consultations, real-time collaboration and co-diagnostics with physicians of various specialties, either locally or remotely and have become an intrinsic part of today’s medical applications.

The Technology Challenge
The medical environment has always presented a challenge for system developers or integrators because of its very critical nature. What’s more, in today’s economy, the technology that drives in-hospital video applications needs to be scalable in performance, able to take data from multiple inputs and process it consistently in real time and reliable enough to have a long operational life to keep total costs down. To meet these demands, developers or integrators should look to high-performance engines such as Intel® Core™ and Xeon® processors from Intel’s embedded roadmap, along with powerful graphics cards to capture a variety of medical modality and camera images, then render them precisely on large LCDs within system configurations that provide flexibility and scalability.

System Scalability and Expandability
The key here is to provide a building-block architecture that can grow dynamically with the application as the need for the number of cameras or image sources to capture videos and the number of the displays for the video wall to render them increases. The first step would be to select the computing core of the system—either a motherboard or a backplane with a plug-in single board computer (SBC), which provides processing power, memory, I/O and slots for plug-in cards. The next step would be to source video/graphics cards with great performance. Finally, add a power supply, thermal management, sufficient PCI Express expansion slots and a rugged chassis that packs it all together seamlessly. (Figure 1)



Figure 1: Implementing a 19˝ 4U rackmount system with a high-bandwidth backplane and a PICMG 1.3 SHB for a video wall application in a surgery room environment.


Standards for High-Throughput Video Applications
When compared to a motherboard, the architecture of an SBC and backplane combination offers many benefits for high-performance applications. One of the major advantages is reduced mean time to repair (MTTR)—an SBC can be removed from the system easily by unplugging the cables and removing one screw, without removing the I/O cards. Others include easy-to-install, expandable backplane slot configurations, flexible system space utilization, and the ability to use a broad range of off-the-shelf peripheral cards.

An SBC contains all the functionality of a conventional motherboard only designed onto a single plug-in type card. This SBC plugs directly into a “passive backplane." PICMG 1.3 is a PICMG specification commonly referred to as system host board or SHB Express. SHB Express is a modernization of the PICMG 1.0 SBC specification, which uses the same physical form factor as PICMG 1.0 SBCs. The board-to-backplane interfaces are PCI Express instead of PCI and ISA, while the use of PCI remains as an option.

SHB Express delivers a highly integrated feature set: point-to-point PCI Express (or PCIe) serial links, Serial ATA, USB, Ethernet and others. It allows users to take advantage of the latest chipset functionalities to increase computing capability for a flexible and simplified system design.

Implementing a PCIe x16 interface on the backplane, single board computer and video cards is highly recommended for the high bandwidth of graphics video applications, such as video walls.

Processor Platform Progression: From Sandy Bridge to Haswell
Intel embedded processors are ubiquitous in medical applications because they offer four key benefits: Intel’s outstanding reputation, scalability, expandability and longevity (with a lifecycle support of up to seven years). The 2nd generation Intel Core and Intel Xeon E3 processor series (formerly Sandy Bridge) were the perfect solution to meet the needs of the computing engine. In addition, with the new Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, Intel’s 3rd generation Intel Core and Intel Xeon E3 processor series embody a substantial performance benefit and power saving over previous generations (from 32nm to 22nm die shrink) and provide a seamless upgrade path through to the upcoming Haswell (a processor microarchitecture to be developed by Intel as the successor to the Ivy Bridge architecture).

All of these Intel processors offer various single-core, dual-core and quad-core configurations depending on performance and power tradeoffs. Furthermore, Intel Ivy Bridge embedded processors are socket-compatible and pin-compatible between desktop and server-grade and their corresponding chipsets or platform controller hubs (PCH) Q77 and C216 are also pin-compatible. Such compatibility offers the flexibility for developers to choose the combination of processor and chipset, from a long list of available selections, to best fulfill their design needs of performance, thermal output, cache size, number of computing cores and many other special requirements. This in turn brings unprecedented scalability.

In addition, because of its versatility in functional support, the single board computers with Ivy Bridge come with a great portfolio of features including 16GB DDR3 1333/1600 RAM, two SATA 3 (6Gbit/s) ports and two SATA 2 (3Gbit/s) ports with RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, two Gigabit Ethernet, multiple USB 2.0 ports, serial ports, parallel ports, DVI-I (DVI-D digital plus analog VGA) and HDMI. (Figure 2)


Figure 2: Portwell’s ROBO-8111VG2AR PICMG 1.3 SHB brings the Intel® Xeon® processor’s PCIe x16 interface to the backplane (gold-plated card edge).

Purpose-built Graphics Card
While most graphics cards offer 3D rendering capability, which is good to create medical image-based modeling, a more scalable option is to look at purpose-built graphics cards. Some purpose-built graphics cards, capable of supporting multiple inputs and outputs, are more ideal for large-scale, multi-view display applications and impose only modest demands on the PCIe x16 interface. A chassis with a reliable power supply that efficiently manages internal heat dissipation and airflow can function seamlessly with these graphics cards while displaying real-time surgical images and minimizing downtime.

The best purpose-built graphics cards include both input and output on the same PCIe Gen2 board that can leverage 64 Gbit/s duplex data transfer for the flawless display of HD input captures without sacrificing frame rate, color or resolution. They should include flexible, universal input channel support for both digital and analog video (DVI, RGB/VGA, Component, S-Video and Composite) and be able to capture and display this video at full, true 24-bit color image quality. Ideally, the graphics cards should support bezel management as well as overlap for projectors in both landscape and portrait setups to create a seamless display surface—such as video walls—with a large number of HD output sources.



Figure 3: Portwell’s M9020B 4U rackmount chassis offers sufficient cooling and 950W redundant power supply.


The Ideal Configuration
The ideal solution for this application will need to be medical-grade quality for operation within a mission-critical environment that demands minimized downtime. It would consist of a PCIe x16 10-slot PICMG 1.3 backplane that offers unprecedented data bandwidth for capturing and displaying high-resolution images in various medical environments. Ideally, it will be capable of supporting up to 40 video inputs and outputs in real time running on a popular operating system like Microsoft® Windows® XP, Windows Server 2008 or Windows 7.

The system could be housed in a 4U rack-mount chassis that offers reliable and sufficient power and the requisite ventilation to keep things cool. The engine that drives this system should a combination of high-performance Intel Ivy Bridge Xeon and Core processors, video wall controller cards and the 10-slot PICMG 1.3 backplane that offer scalability, expansion and longevity. (Figure 3) Not only will this system provide a high-end integrated solution, but it will also enable developers to speed up time to deployment by simplifying the implementation of these large-scale video display wall and remote viewing applications.



Allen Sha is senior program manager at American Portwell Technology where he is responsible for designing solutions for medical devices and new market development. Sha has over 20 years of product marketing and sales experience in the embedded computing, ASIC and electronic design automation (EDA) industries. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a U.S. patent.