Yesterday in San Jose I got up close and personal with a development version of Nvidia's Tegra platform for mobile devices. I was taken through a demo of Tegra at the Nvision 2008 conference, and came away impressed - relative to the fact that I was looking at a reference design that will never be available to the consumer public in its current form. Nvidia is selling these development boxes - built around the APX 2500 system-on-a-chip for cell phones - to developers only. The company is working with partners to bring the technology to market in mobile phones for consumers, and an Nvidia representative told me they hope to see Tegra-powered phones in the marketplace within the next year. The company is also working with partners to bring Tegra technology to a line of MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices) to compete directly with Intel's Atom processor-powered MIDs, the first of which were shown off at last week's Intel Developers' Forum in San Francisco. We should see Nvidia-powered MIDs in stores before the first Nvidia-based cell phones are released.
That said, what I saw was super cool. Most of the demo centered around a 3D carousel user interface that Nvidia built in-house. The UI looked great, and scrolling on the touchscreen-based device was very smooth. What impressed me the most was the handling of HD video playback on the unit. One of the windows on the UI was for video, and I saw 720p HD video playing back inside of the window while the carousel spun around - video playback was jerk-free, so far as I could tell, even while the carousel spun. A finger tap zoomed the video out to full screen, and it looked great.
But check this out - the device featured an HDMI out port, and a cable connected the phone to a full-size flat panel HDTV. The big screen mirrored the handheld's display, and everything looked great on the larger display - the UI, the scrolling, and the full screen 720p movie all displayed without a hitch. The top of the line Tegra 650 - which is destined for MIDs and not cell phones - will support full 1080p HD playback, according to Nvidia.
Nvidia claims Tegra can power HD playback for up to 10 hours so long as the handheld's display is off (i.e. using the phone to drive an external monitor), and the APX 2500 cell phone chip is capable of both HD decoding and encoding. In other words, not only can a Tegra device function as an HD-ready portable multimedia library, but it can also double as an HD camcorder, provided that it's built into a device with the proper optics. Nvidia said the Tegra platform can support mobile cameras with up to 12 megapixel capture resolution.
Pretty cool stuff. But don't just take my word(s) for it. We'll have video of the demo online later today. Meantime you can get some more of the nitty-gritty on Tegra over at Network World.