This evening, NVIDIA made some bold moves at their CES 2013 press conference and announced a couple of potentially game-changing products.
CEO Jen-Hsun Huang spent a little more than 90 minutes talking to a captive audience at the press conference, which was held at the posh Palms Hotel in Las Vegas. He used the first couple of segments to show off the GeForce Experience utility, which launched in beta form a few weeks back, and the GeForce GRID server platform. Just to reiterate, GeForce Experience is designed to make PC gaming more “console like” by automatically configuring many of today’s popular games for optimal image quality and performance, based on the PC’s hardware configuration and mountains of game data compiled by NVIDIA’s testers and QA labs.
We originally talked about GeForce GRID in May of last year, when NVIDIA fist demoed it at GTC. At its core, GeForce GRID is a cloud gaming solution. It allows gaming content—namely PC games—to be run and rendered in the cloud and then streamed to any device that can run the GRID receiver utility, like a Smart TV, Tablet, or a Smartphone.
Today though, NVIDIA built upon the original announcement and took the wraps off of the GeForce GRID server architecture, which combines an NVIDIA-designed server packed with GPUs with NVIDIA-developed software and virtualization layer that leverages all of the hardware within. A rack of 20 GRID servers was shown, powered by 240 GPUs, capable of 200 TFLOPS—roughly equivalent to the performance of 720 Xbox 360 consoles.
With GeForce GRID, PC games were able to be streamed to an LG Smart TV and an Android-based tablet with smooth frame rates and the same image quality you’d expect from a high-end PC. Also, since the game was stored in the cloud, saved games and settings were available on both systems. As cloud gaming gains more steam moving forward, expect to hear more from NVIDIA about GeForce GRID.
The biggest news to come out of NVIDIA’s press conference, however, had to do with Tegra 4. Not only was the next-gen SoC officially unveiled, but a new portable gaming device based on Tegra 4, dubbed "Project SHIELD," was also demoed.
NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 builds upon the success of the Tegra 3 by incorporating updated ARM15-based CPU cores with 72 custom GeForce GPU cores, which offer up to 6x the performance of Tegra 3. Like its predecessor, Tegra 4 will also have a 4+1 CPU design, which combines 4 high-performance cores with a low-power battery saver core to prolong battery life (up to 14 hours of HD video playback on smartphones according to NVIDIA). The A15 cores used in Tegra 4 are up to 2.6x faster than the A9-class cores used in Tegra 3, for significantly better performance all around. In a demo, NVIDIA showed the Tegra 4 opening multiple webpages at about double the speed of the fastest Android-based tablet available today (the Samsung Exynos Quad-based Nexus 10). NVIDIA said the Tegra 4 is faster than Apple’s A6X as well.
As a companion to the Tegra 4, NVIDIA also took the wraps off of their new Icera i500 programmable 4G LTE modem processor. The Icera i500 features 8 custom, programmable processor cores that make the i500 more capable than the fixed function modems prevalent today. And the i500 is approximately 40% smaller than many fixed function modems too. According to NVIDIA, the i500 will begin sampling next month.
The Tegra 4 also features new computational photography capabilities, which can enhance images captured on mobile devices in real-time. For example, with Tegra 4, HDR photos can seamlessly be captured without the lag associated with current solutions. The Tegra 4 effectively captures two images simultaneously (at high and low exposures) to produce the HDR images. Current solutions capture two images as well, but there’s a lag between the captures, which can result in strange artifacts if there’s any motion in the frame. The Tegra 4’s computational photography capabilities will also be able to handle HDR panoramas, strobe motion captures, 3D reconstructions, and object tracking.
The biggest surprise to come out of NVIDIA’s press conference was Project SHIELD. Project SHIELD is a Tegra 4-powered mobile gaming device running Android that’s sure to put Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo on high alert.
NVIDIA Project SHIELD Mobile Gaming Device
NVIDIA's Project SHIELD device offers a pure Android experience without any skinning or other customizations, save for the SHIELD app environment, that can play any Android game. However, Project SHIELD has the ability to stream PC games from a GeForce GTX-equipped PC as well.
The device is shaped much like an Xbox 360 game controller, but features a 5”, flip-out capacitive touch display with a 720P resolution. Project SHIELD can also stream out to an HD TV via HDMI or a WiDi-like wireless dongle. In fact, Jen-Hsun showed Project SHIELD playing a 4K video on an LG 4K TV, which looked absolutely awesome.
NVIDIA claimed battery life would fall in the 4 -5 hour range while gaming and up to 12 hours playing HD video.
No word was given on Project SHIELD’s availability or pricing, but we’re hearing some time in Q2 2013 at a price somewhere in between today’s most powerful handheld gaming devices and a high-end tablet.