Nvidia: Tegra Kicks iPhone’s Ass in Gaming, Will Support WinCE and Android

tegraIf you haven’t heard of Tegra yet, you will. This system on a chip, which packs in powerful graphics and video capabilities, is the guts inside the upcoming Zune HD from Microsoft and a host of mobile Internet devices, like the Mobinova elan we played with at Computex. And now MobileCrunch and others are reporting that we will see a phone from a top-five manufacturer by the fourth quarter of this year powered by Tegra for $199. So why all the hype around Tegra? The technology promises a first-class Flash experience, console-quality gaming, and up to 1080p video playback (depending on the device). Plus, Nvidia boasts that Tegra offers five times the battery life of current netbooks. We sat down with Michael Rayfield, general manager of mobile business at Nvidia, to find out more about Tegra’s potential and how it compares with competing technologies vying for a bigger slice of the smartbook/smart phone market. Here are the quick highlights:

  • Nvidia claims that Tegra is superior to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Freescale’s technology because it’s working with Adobe to accelerate Flash using the GPU.
  • Tegra will initially support only Windows CE smartbooks, but the company is already working on bringing Tegra to Android phones and will embrace the platform for larger screen devices once it’s mature enough.
  • Nvidia believes that Tegra is superior to the latest iPhone 3GS when it comes to gaming. “Tegra has more graphics and 3D capability than any device that’s shipping in a mobile handset today.” Whether or not this capability will be leveraged on the Zune HD or later devices remains to be seen.

Read on for the full interview and all the juicy Tegra details. How does Tegra technology stack up against Qualcomm, Freescale, and others targeting the smartbook space? These devices are about graphics and that’s what we do. Freescale is not a graphics company and Qualcomm is a communications company. With most of the other products you can’t do interesting graphics. I don’t believe anybody has shown the Flash acceleration that we’ve got. Because this is a Web device it’s about the Web experience. It’s about great HD video. It’s about great Flash. It’s about an uncompromised experience. We don’t think anyone else can do that. But isn’t Adobe promising full Flash support across all devices powered by ARM processors by the fall? We’ve partnered with Adobe to do acceleration of Flash 10 on the GPU. Everybody that has a GPU will get a lift from that. Our belief is that because we have the highest performing GPU in the industry that we’ll deliver a much, much better Flash experience than everybody else. Do you really think Windows CE is a better launch platform for Tegra than Android? I think it’s about timing. We think both Windows CE and Android will be in this space. In the short term, during the next couple of quarters, Windows CE was the best available platform. We’ve worked with it, it’s a small footprint, and it wasn’t focused on phones. With Android right now, at least within Nvidia, we’re focusing on phones. And as larger display support becomes available on Android we’ll go off and make sure that’s available with all the necessary hardware acceleration. It’s not a one-or-the-other for us. It’s a staging. How much impact do you think Tegra could have with mobile game developers? As these devices get much more plentiful, like in the tens of millions, Tegra will be a great platform for games. You probably won’t the leading edge titles that you’d play on a huge system with a 30-inch display but you will play really nice 3G graphical games. I think there will be application store kinds of things aligned with Tegra as well. How does Tegra stack up against the iPhone 3GS when it comes to gaming? We showed you playing 30 frames per second in Quake 3, which is a pretty good experience. Tegra has more graphics and 3D capability than any device that’s shipping in a mobile handset today. We’re fired up to work with our third-party developer network. There could be some really, really cool mobile gaming devices built around Tegra. Do you feel like netbooks have much of a future or will they be squeezed out by smartbooks and smart phones on one side and ULV notebooks on the other? Netbooks are a relatively new category that will evolve. On the high end these devices are turning into computers. That part of the market isn’t going away. We just have to correctly call it a computer. The lower half of the market is Web devices, whether you call them mobile Internet devices, smart pads, or smartbooks.  And we believe those devices will be dominated by technologies like Tegra because its got better graphics and better media performance than any of the netbooks that exist today, plus much longer battery life and a much lower bill of materials. So that space of $0 to $500 netbooks is going in two different directions. I think the days of expensive, low functionality small devices is going away. That’s a lot of what netbooks were. We’ve been impressed with the panel-based user interface that Nvidia has demonstrated on some Tegra prototypes. Are you licensing that or will someone tweak it and bring it to market? I think there will be something like it that comes to market. Everyone wants to do their own thing. You’ve seen on some of these Windows CE devices that there’s sort of a pop-up rail interface. So it’s pleasing to look at and it’s intuitive in terms of what you do with it. I think there will be spinner types of user interfaces coming out, too. A lot of what’s going to make the next generation of devices appealing is intuitive user interfaces and you need good graphics to do that. You’ll probably see these UIs in phones and smartbooks by the beginning of next year. A lot of people who see the Zune HD wish it was a phone. Do you think that Tegra device should be the building block for the next Windows Mobile platform? I started to talk about this two years ago and a lot of people thought I was crazy. If you look at a media player or smartbook, architecturally they’re the same as a phone. Apple took the phone business by storm because they built a computer and tacked on a 2.5 modem as a peripheral. People said “they don’t know anything about phones.” And they built a delightful computer that was capable of making a phone call. You can just as easily build a mobile phone around Tegra and put different peripherals on it like 3G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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