Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took to the stage at CES 2013 Sunday night, and proved his company is poised to do more than just ship high end GPU’s. The charismatic young CEO announced his intention to take on cloud gaming, showed off his iPad 4-smashing Tegra 4 SoC, and even debuted an Android powered handheld gaming console.
Project shield is difficult to define, but let’s give this a shot. It’s essentially an Xbox 360 controller, with a 5” 720p multitouch display built onto the top, running a stock version of Google Android on a Tegra 4 processor. From a hardware perspective, that just about sums it up. From a software standpoint however, that’s only the beginning.
The Project Shield handheld will have access to the Google Play Store, and PC Gamers with a desktop GTX 650 or higher (GTX 660M or higher for mobile), can stream any PC game to the handheld to create a mobile PC gaming experience. In addition to the GPU’s listed above, your system will also need to have an Intel Core i5 or better (no mention of AMD), 4GB of system memory, the latest GeForce drivers, Windows 7 or 8, and an 802.11 a/g/n router. The GTX 650 or higher requirement apparently has something to do with Keplers built in H.264 video encoder, a technology they claim allows for “ultra-low latency” streaming.
The Shield handheld console also contains an HDMI output, which at least in theory, would give users the flexibility to pipe PC games into any HD TV. Wireless woes and latency could ultimately make this little more than a pipe dream, but until we get a chance to test it out for ourselves, Nvidia deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Pricing and availability wasn’t announced during the keynote, but we expect more details to emerge in the coming days.
Tegra 4 is Nvidia’s next generation high end SoC solution for smartphones and tablets, and while it has some similarities to Tegra 3, architecturally it’s a completely new animal. Tegra 4 features four high end Cortex-A15 CPU cores, along with 72 GeForce GPU cores. The low-power companion core that debuted in Tegra 3 is back, but as far as we can tell it’s only active for low performance tasks, or standby mode. Tegra 4 is also rumored to be a die shrink over its predecessor, dropping from 40nm down to 28nm.
On the performance side, Tegra 4 looks impressive, but that’s never easy to gauge. Performance on ARM SoC’s are awkward to report on, and notoriously difficult to test. OEM’s love to throw up numbers such as 2x faster, however in a live demo they did indeed demonstrate a prototype Tegra 4 tablet doubling browser performance of Google’s flagship Nexus 10. Since it’s impossible to confirm details such as browser versions however, I’d recommend taking these results with a grain of salt. Claiming dominance over Apple’s A6X is no small accomplishment however, and If true, this would definitely make Tegra 4 the current king of the SoC’s.
The lack of integrated LTE, and steep power requirements will probably make Tegra 4 a more popular choice for tablets, but only time will tell. Nvidia’s spent a great deal of time hyping up how Tegra 4 improves camera results, so clearly they at least hope a few handset makers will take a look.
GeForce grid was probably the least “consumer” based announcement, but it was interesting nonetheless. The Grid is an Nvidia server rack, packed with 20 modules, and over 240 GPUs. The result is over 200 TFLOPS of performance, or to put it in console bashing terms, 700 Xbox 360’s. Huang put this in perspective by saying that 700 Xbox’s 360’s would take up over 10 racks.
The Grid is clearly aimed at Onlive style business models, where 3D cloud rendering power is in demand. Nvidia will likely be trying to peddle the Grid to your local cable or phone provider, with the hopes that others will want to continue to build on what Onlive started.
Nvidia is continuing to diversify, and they also seem more willing to take chances. Project shield is ambitious, but risky. An Android gaming handheld running a stock Google OS sounds like a dream come true, but then again handheld gaming is in a serious decline. Tegra 4 is powerful, but this power hungry chip has some serious competition. And finally the GeForce Grid is an amazing experience, but will cloud GPU rendering demand remain a niche?
Nvidia has some challenges ahead in 2013, but are also pumping out some fairly impressive and bold innovations.
Check out the full keynote below. NOTE: **FAST FORWARD TO 56:30**