Research in multimedia for consumer electronics is dominated by the problem of incredibly short times-to-market, that means fast complexity estimations and fast design of new architectures. On one side more and more sophisticated and flexible applications are rapidly developed, on the other side the exponential growth in IC computational power seems to be hardly capable to keep pace with requirements for real-time applications, since their complexity is exponentially growing as well. The processor's performance, often slowed down by bottlenecks in memories and buses, is further reduced by the time wasted in communication among the several application layers. From this problem comes the conception of integrated development frameworks for simulation and design. Tools for simulation and analysis of architectures have appeared from academic and industrial research laboratories above all in the last decade. Many of them are conceived to provide low-level exact simulation of the supported devices, at the price of heavy slowdowns in simulation times and huge sizes of traced data reports. Some others, in the last years, introduced some degrees of approximation in simulations, in order to speed up execution time and to increase the flexibility of the tools to support multi-processors. The resulting more or less abstract models are anyway not suitable to analyze real multimedia-oriented applications, where programs are usually available in some languages including dedicated libraries and meaningful results are only those measured in function of time. On another level, tools for hardware/software codesign or for block-based system design provide more useful results, but to be effective they must rely on rigid cores that may allow only a few degrees of reconfigurability; some very recent tools are conceived to design complex systems by modeling blocks through a high level description language. Conversely, the virtual model and related tool proposed in this dissertation have their roots in an approach to the analysis of complexity that aims to be, as far as possible, platform independent. The method is based on the concepts of abstract classes of operations and simulation in function of the performance time. The work described in this dissertation finds its application field in the world of multimedia, more precisely in multimedia-oriented Audio applications. Media applications are commonly programmed by imperative or object-oriented languages, which are composed by many different statements, operators and above all standard libraries. A careful profiling of typical applications permits to detect fundamental operations and functions and to define a virtual instruction set, grouping more or less similar operators and breaking functions into basic building blocks. The resulting virtual instruction set does not correspond to any actual one but it has as property to be easily mapped on a large number of existing ones. The simulation of an architecture requires then the availability of measures, benchmarks or estimations of at least one member of each abstract class. The number of classes, i.e. the complexity vector, can be adapted in length and detail to the needed degree of precision and to the available set of actual measures and/or benchmarks. The input to the simulation is described by a high-level standardized programming language, the new MPEG-4 Structured Audio Orchestra Language (SAOL); in principle, it may also be the case that the application does not need any translation, if it is already available in this format. Moreover, simulation through a high-level language permits to trace the behavior of the target architecture in function of the internal time of the application itself, result that is fundamental when the related workload is highly variable as in downloadable and/or interactive scenarios. In such cases complexity has always been considered a guess. The new virtual model for analyses of complexity led to two main practical results: the proposed method of simulation has been used to define complexity levels for Structured Audio in the MPEG-4 Standard, and consequently the platform independent analyzer has become the MPEG-4 reference software for MPEG-4 SA Conformance test. a virtual instruction set has been conceived that has permitted the implementation of an efficient Structured Audio decoder, SAINT, based on a virtual interpreted DSP core. The flexibility of the SAINT virtual DSP approach has permitted a fast porting of its execution engine on a superscalar VLIW DSP, making it one of the building blocks of the ThreeDSPACE system, a framework for advanced rendering of 3-D Audio scenes based on MPEG-4 descriptions. The complete tool for simulation of architectures, including a cache simulator, has shown promising results, achieving estimations of the execution time of SAINT with an approximation of the 10% in the mean for a general purpose processor, and of the 20% for a very complex superscalar VLIW processor. Estimated programs have sometimes dynamic excursions of a factor 10 in their complexity along the time axis. In general, the experimental results can be considered in line with those of the most recent, state-of-the-art simulators presented in literature. A limitation of the language adopted to model the applications is that its generality is limited to onedimensional floating-point computation; the most relevant advantage is that simulation in function of the performance time is straightforward and provides the time-dependent results that are fundamental for the optimization of real-time applications. With the tool developed in this PhD work, complex programs can be quickly modeled thanks to SA specific libraries and also quickly analyzed; moreover, the tool can be easily extended to become a tool for automatic generation and configuration of the main building blocks of a system running the application, or the class of applications, under consideration. The proposed model is finally intended as an alternative approach to coordinate two sides; a principal goal of this work was to conceive and specify a systematic analysis method that can be useful to both the software programmer and to the hardware system engineer. The former can benefit of a reconfigurable and dedicated highlevel software tool able to profile programs in a simple and platform independent manner and to easily simulate, with some margins of error, the behavior of a specific platform, existing or virtual; the latter can exploit complexity estimations in an abstract format, with the possibility to study the target application in its several aspects (operations, memory usage, data flows among the different program blocks) and the potentiality to extend these results to an automatic generation of high-level system architectures.