NVIDIA's HD-Capable Tegra Chip Powers Zune HD

There's little doubt that the hype surrounding Microsoft's Zune HD far exceeds that which surrounded the original Zune. The design is far superior, the technology is cutting edge (HD Radio, OLED display, etc.) and far more is at stake. Microsoft didn't exactly hit a home run with the original Zune, but if the Zune HD crashes and burns in much the same way, who knows if the software giant will even bother to try its hand at Apple's game again?

In order to really launch an all out assault on Apple's iPod touch, Microsoft has also enlisted the help of NVIDIA. An odd partner in the portable media player business, but one that could prove all the more viable in the coming months and years. Unlike just a few years back, NVIDIA is now making mobile-centric processors designed to push serious pixels in the smallest of devices. Like the Zune HD, naturally. The company's Tegra processor has been talked about for months on end, but little has actually been done on the "walk the walk" front.

Until now. The planet's "first" ultra-low-power HD processor is a vital part of the Zune HD, giving the player high-def capabilities not found on rivaling units (like Apple's iPod family). Michael Rayfield, general manager of NVIDIA’s mobile business, stated that Tegra "provides the multimedia muscle in Zune HD," also proclaiming that users will simply "love the device’s new design, amazing multimedia features and HD video out capability." Of course, he would say something like that given his vested interest, but we digress.

The Tegra chip within the forthcoming Zune HD (September 15th ship date) contains eight independent processors, each designed for a specific class of tasks - among them are an HD video processor, an audio processor, a graphics processor, and two ARM cores. The processors can work together or independently to minimize power consumption. Here's an overview of what the processor brings to the table:
  • HD video processor dedicated to HD video, providing unprecedented picture quality and ultra-smooth, vivid movie playback with low power consumption
  • Ultra-low power graphics processor for a compelling and intuitive user interface
  • NVIDIA nPower™ technology, which optimizes system power use and enables extended HD video and MP3 playback time

Will an HD chip within a media player be enough to catch the eye of the general public? It's hard to say. Most average consumers don't know and couldn't care less about the processor, RAM and controller board within their iPod. They just care that it works. We suspect most non-enthusiasts will share those same feelings about the Zune HD, but if Microsoft can somehow market this player as one that can actually do more than the iPod touch, it may be able to convince people to switch. Time will tell, and so will the holiday shopping numbers.