Nvidia's Tegra system-on-chip will allow portable devices to play high-definition video for more than 10 hours, an engineer from the company told the Hot Chips conference on Monday.
Nvidia announced the Tegra series in June, introducing the Tegra 600 and 650 chips and folding the previously announced APX 2500 cell-phone chip into the same line. The chips take Nvidia beyond its base of graphics processors and up against Intel's Atom platform. The 600 and 650 can be used with hard disk drives and are designed partly for MIDs (mobile Internet devices), an emerging category of pocket-sized computers that is also in Intel's sights with Atom.
"Power really is the challenge," said Michael Toksvig, a distinguished engineer at Nvidia, who spoke at the conference taking place this week at Stanford University. Advances in lithium-ion battery technology only extend the amount of power from one charge by about 5 percent per year, so the rest has to be made up with device efficiency and power management, he said. In high-definition video playback, a Tegra chip's power consumption is well below 200 milliwatts, he said. The chips, based on an Arm core, are as small as 12 by 12 millimeters for the APX 2500.
The video capabilities of the chips approach home entertainment levels, according to Nvidia. The top-of-the-line Tegra 650 can decode 1080p video, the highest resolution commercially available on widescreen TVs, at 24 frames per second. The resolution can be as high as 1,680 by 1,050 pixels, so a pocket-sized device made with this chip could be plugged in to a TV using HDMI (High-definition Multimedia Interface) to play a high-quality movie, Toksvig said. The Tegra platform can decode the MPEG-4, H.264 and VC1 formats. With a peak bit rate as high as 20M bps (bits per second), the quality approaches that of Blu-Ray DVD, he said. (A DVD would probably still be needed for storage of the movie, he added.)
The Tegra 600 can play 720p video at 30 frames per second and 1,280-by-1,024 resolution. The APX 2500 cell-phone chip can handle the same quality with a lower resolution of 854 by 480. In addition, it can play nine hours of continuous TV broadcast over mobile systems such as DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld), according to Nvidia.
A Tegra-based device could also deliver more than 100 hours of MP3 music or five hours of 3-D game play, or spend weeks in standby mode without running out of power, Toksvig said.
The Tegra platform is still in its infancy, however. In one demonstration of sending a 720p movie trailer from a prototype pocketable computer to a widescreen TV, Toksvig wasn't able to achieve the full resolution and frame rate. He said sample chips are hard to come by because Nvidia is concentrating on helping major vendors get the chips into devices for sale during the end-of-year holiday season.
Tegra chips should appear first in personal media players and later in other products, such as MIDs and navigation units, with mid-range and high-end cell phones probably coming in 2009, Toksvig said.