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digital signal processing (DSP)

Contributor(s): David Brancato, Mark Denni, and Vincent Martinez

Digital signal processing (DSP) refers to various techniques for improving the accuracy and reliability of digital communications. The theory behind DSP is quite complex. Basically, DSP works by clarifying, or standardizing, the levels or states of a digital signal. ADSP circuit is able to differentiate between human-made signals,which are orderly, and noise, which is inherently chaotic.

All communications circuits contain some noise.This is true whether the signals are analog or digital,and regardless of the type of information conveyed. Noise is the eternal bane of communications engineers, who are always striving to find new ways to improve the signal-to-noise ratioin communications systems. Traditional methods of optimizing S/N ratio include increasing the transmitted signal power and increasing the receiver sensitivity. (In wireless systems,specialized antenna systems can also help.) Digital signal processing dramatically improves the sensitivity of a receiving unit. The effect is most noticeable when noise competes with a desired signal. A good DSP circuit can sometimes seem like an electronic miracle worker. But there are limits to what it can do. If the noise is so strong that all traces of the signal are obliterated, a DSP circuit cannot find any order in the chaos,and no signal will be received.

If an incoming signal is analog, for example a standard television broadcast station, the signal is first converted to digital form by an analog-to-digital converter(ADC). The resulting digital signal has two or more levels. Ideally, these levels are always predictable, exact voltages or currents. However, because the incoming signal contains noise, the levels are not always at the standard values. The DSP circuit adjusts the levels so they are at the correct values. This practically eliminates the noise. The digital signal is then converted back to analog from via a digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

If a received signal is digital, for example computer data, then the ADC and DAC are not necessary. The DSP acts directly on the incoming signal, eliminating irregularities caused by noise, and thereby minimizing the number of errors per unit time.

This was last updated in September 2005

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