Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Finally, a SHIELD Console

NVIDIA is filling out the family of the SHIELD brand today with the announcement of SHIELD, a set-top box powered by the Tegra X1 processor. SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming device. Selling for $199 and available in May of this year, there is a lot to discuss.

Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk and bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movies and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.

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Here is a full breakdown of the device's specifications.

  NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM
Video Features 4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)
Audio 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
Storage 16 GB
Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
Interfaces Gigabit Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
Micro-USB 2.0
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
Gaming Features NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
NVIDIA GameStream™
SW Updates SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA
Power 40W power adapter
Weight and Size Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
OS Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready
Bundled Apps PLEX
In the box NVIDIA SHIELD
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
Requirements TV with HDMI input, Internet access
Options SHIELD controller, SHIELD remove, SHIELD stand

Obviously the most important feature is the Tegra X1 SoC, built on an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor and a 256 CUDA Core Maxwell architecture GPU. This gives the SHIELD set-top more performance than basically any other mobile part on the market, and demos showing Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on the hardware drive the point home. With integrated HEVC decode support the console is the first Android TV device to offer the support for 4K video content at 60 FPS.

Even though storage is only coming in at 16GB, the inclusion of an MicroSD card slot enabled expansion to as much as 128GB more for content and local games.

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The first choice for networking will be the Gigabit Ethernet port, but the 2x2 dual-band 802.11ac wireless controller means that even those of us that don't have hardwired Internet going to our TV will be able to utilize all the performance and features of SHIELD.

Continue reading our preview of the NVIDIA SHIELD set-top box!!

GDC 15: Native versions of Doom 3, Crysis 3 running on Android, Tegra X1

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 10:43 PM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, tegra, nvidia, gdc 15, GDC, Doom 3, Crysis 3

Impressively, NVIDIA just showed the new SHIELD powered by Tegra X1 running a version of both Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on Android! The games were running at impressive quality and performance levels.

I have included some videos of these games being played on the SHIELD, but don't judge the visual quality of the game with these videos. They were recorded with a Panasonic GH2 off a 4K TV in a dimly lit room.

Doom 3 is quoted to run at full 1920x1080 and 60 FPS while Crysis 3 is much earlier in its development. Both games looked amazing considering we are talking about a system that has a total power draw of only 15 watts!

While these are just examples of the power that Tegra X1 can offer, it's important to note that this type of application is the exception, not the rule, for Android gaming. Just as we see with Half-Life 2 and Portal NVIDIA did most of the leg work to get this version of Doom 3 up and running. Crysis 3 is more of an effort from Crytek explicitly - hopefully this port is as gorgeous as this first look played.

GDC 15: NVIDIA Announces SHIELD, Tegra X1 Powered Set-top with Android TV

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 10:21 PM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, tegra, shield, gdc 15, GDC, android tv

NVIDIA just announced a new member of its family of hardware devices: SHIELD. Just SHIELD. Powered by NVIDIA's latest 8-core, Maxwell GPU Tegra X1 SoC, SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming set-top box.

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Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk, bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movie and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.

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Speaking of the Tegra X1, the SHIELD will include the power of 256 Maxwell architecture CUDA cores and will easily provide the best Android gaming performance of any tablet or set-top box on the market. This means gaming, and lots of it, will be possible on SHIELD. Remember our many discussions about Tegra-specific gaming ports from the past? That trend will continue and more developers are realizing the power that NVIDIA is putting into this tiny chip.

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In the box you'll get the SHIELD set-top unit and a SHIELD Controller, the same released with the SHIELD Tablet last year. A smaller remote controller that looks similar to the one used with the Kindle Fire TV will cost a little extra as will the stand that sets the SHIELD upright.

Pricing on the new SHIELD set-top will be $199, shipping in May.

ARM and Geomerics Show Enlighten 3 Lighting, Integrate with Unity 5

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: Unity, lighting, global illumination, geomerics, GDC, arm

Back in 2013 ARM picked up a company called Geomerics, responsible for one the industry’s most advanced dynamic lighting engines used in games ranging from mobile to console to PC. Called Enlighten, it is the lighting engine in many major games in a variety of markets. Battlefield 3 uses it, Need for Speed: The Run does as well, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Quantum Conundrum mark another pair of major games that depend on Geomerics technology.

geo-3.jpg

Great, but what does that have to do with ARM and why would the company be interested in investing in software that works with such a wide array of markets, most of which are not dominated by ARM processors? There are two answers, the first of which is directional: ARM is using the minds and creative talent behind Geomerics to help point the Cortex and Mali teams in the correct direction for CPU and GPU architecture development. By designing hardware to better address the advanced software and lighting systems Geomerics builds then Cortex and Mali will have some semblance of an advantage in specific gaming titles as well as a potential “general purpose” advantage. NVIDIA employs hundreds of gaming and software developers for this exact reason: what better way to make sure you are always at the forefront of the gaming ecosystem than getting high-level gaming programmers to point you to that edge? Qualcomm also recently (back in 2012) started employing game and engine developers in-house with the same goals.

ARM also believes it will be beneficial to bring publishers, developers and middleware partners to the ARM ecosystem through deployment of the Enlighten engine. It would be feasible to think console vendors like Microsoft and Sony would be more willing to integrate ARM SoCs (rather than the x86 used in the PS4 and Xbox One) when shown the technical capabilities brought forward by technologies like Geomerics Enlighten.

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It’s best to think of the Geomerics acquisition of a kind of insurance program for ARM, making sure both its hardware and software roadmaps are in line with industry goals and directives.

At GDC 2015 Geomerics is announcing the release of the Enlighten 3 engine, a new version that brings cinematic-quality real-time global illumination to market. Some of the biggest new features include additional accuracy on indirect lighting, color separated directional output (enables individual RGB calculations), better light map baking for higher quality output, and richer material properties to support transparency and occlusion.

All of this technology will be showcased in a new Subway demo that includes real-time global illumination simulation, dynamic transparency and destructible environments.

Geomerics Enlighten 3 Subway Demo

Enlighten 3 will also ship with Forge, a new lighting editor and pipeline tool for content creators looking to streamline the building process. Forge will allow import functionality from Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya applications making inter-operability easier. Forge uses a technology called YEBIS 3 to show estimated final quality without the time consuming final-build processing time.

geo-1.jpg

Finally, maybe the biggest news for ARM and Geomerics is that the Unity 5 game engine will be using Enlighten as its default lighting engine, giving ARM/Mali a potential advantage for gaming experiences in the near term. Of course Enlighten is available as an option for Unreal Engine 3 and 4 for developers using that engine in mobile, console and desktop projects as well as in an SDK form for custom integrations.

Who Should Care? Thankfully, Many People

The Khronos Group has made three announcements today: Vulkan (their competitor to DirectX 12), OpenCL 2.1, and SPIR-V. Because there is actually significant overlap, we will discuss them in a single post rather than splitting them up. Each has a role in the overall goal to access and utilize graphics and compute devices.

khronos-Vulkan-700px-eventpage.png

Before we get into what everything is and does, let's give you a little tease to keep you reading. First, Khronos designs their technologies to be self-reliant. As such, while there will be some minimum hardware requirements, the OS pretty much just needs to have a driver model. Vulkan will not be limited to Windows 10 and similar operating systems. If a graphics vendor wants to go through the trouble, which is a gigantic if, Vulkan can be shimmed into Windows 8.x, Windows 7, possibly Windows Vista despite its quirks, and maybe even Windows XP. The words “and beyond” came up after Windows XP, but don't hold your breath for Windows ME or anything. Again, the further back in Windows versions you get, the larger the “if” becomes but at least the API will not have any “artificial limitations”.

Outside of Windows, the Khronos Group is the dominant API curator. Expect Vulkan on Linux, Mac, mobile operating systems, embedded operating systems, and probably a few toasters somewhere.

On that topic: there will not be a “Vulkan ES”. Vulkan is Vulkan, and it will run on desktop, mobile, VR, consoles that are open enough, and even cars and robotics. From a hardware side, the API requires a minimum of OpenGL ES 3.1 support. This is fairly high-end for mobile GPUs, but it is the first mobile spec to require compute shaders, which are an essential component of Vulkan. The presenter did not state a minimum hardware requirement for desktop GPUs, but he treated it like a non-issue. Graphics vendors will need to be the ones making the announcements in the end, though.

Before we go further, some background is necessary. Read on for that and lots more!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Intel

SoFIA, Cherry Trail Make Debuts

Mobile World Congress is traditionally dominated by Samsung, Qualcomm, HTC, and others yet Intel continues to make in-roads into the mobile market. Though the company has admittedly lost a lot of money during this growing process, Intel pushes forward with today's announcement of a trio of new processor lines that keep the Atom brand. The Atom x3, the Atom x5, and the Atom x7 will be the company's answer in 2015 for a wide range of products, starting at the sub-$75 phone market and stretching up to ~$400 tablets and all-in-ones.

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There are some significant differences in these Atom processors, more than the naming scheme might indicate.

Intel Atom x3 SoFIA Processor

For years now we have questioned Intel's capability to develop a processor that could fit inside the thermal envelope that is required for a smartphone while also offering performance comparable to Qualcomm, MediaTek, and others. It seemed that the x86 architecture was a weight around Intel's ankles rather than a float lifting it up. Intel's answer was the development of SoFIA, (S)mart (o)r (F)eature phone with (I)ntel (A)rchitecture. The project started about 2 years ago leading to product announcements finally reaching us today. SoFIA parts are "designed for budget smartphones; SoFIA is set to give Qualcomm and MediaTek a run for their money in this rapidly growing part of the market."

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The SoFIA processors are based on the same Silvermont architecture as the current generation of Atom processors, but they are more tuned for power efficiency. Originally planned to be a dual-core only option, Intel has actually built both dual-core and quad-core variants that will pair with varying modem options to create a combination that best fit target price points and markets. Intel has partnered with RockChip for these designs, even though the architecture is completely IA/x86 based. Production will be done on a 28nm process technology at an unnamed vendor, though you can expect that to mean TSMC. This allows RockChip access to the designs, to help accelerate development, and to release them into the key markets that Intel is targeting.

Continue reading our look at the new Intel Atom x3, x5 and x7 Processors!!

MWC 15: LG Demos WebOS Smartwatch ("Urbane LTE")

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 09:46 PM |
Tagged: webOS, smartwatch, mwc 15, MWC, LG

A while ago, LG licensed WebOS from HP for use in their smart TVs and, as we found out during CES, smart watches.

The LG Urbane LTE is one such device, and we can finally see it in action. It is based around (literally) a circular P-OLED display (320 x 320, 1.3-inches, 245 ppi). Swirling your finger around the face scrolls through the elements like a wheel, which should be significantly more comfortable to search through a large list of applications than a linear list of elements -- a lot like an iPod (excluding the Touch and the Shuffle). That said, I have only seen other people use it.

lg-smartwatch-urbane-lte.jpg

The SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2 GHz. It supports LTE, Wireless-N, Bluetooth 4.0LE, and NFC. It has 1 GB of RAM, which is quite a bit, and 4GB of permanent storage, which is not. It also has a bunch of sensors, from accelerometers and gyros to heart rate monitors and a barometer. It has a speaker and a microphone, but no camera. LG flaunts a 700 mAh battery, which they claim is “the category's largest”, but they do not link that to an actual amount of usage time (only that it “go[es] for days in standby mode”).

Video credit: The Verge

Pricing has not yet been announced, but it should hit the US and Europe before May arrives.

Source: LG

HTC Announces Vive VR Headset in Partnership with Valve

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 05:16 PM |
Tagged: MWC, mwc 15, GDC, gdc 15, htc, valve, vive, vive vr, Oculus

Mobile World Congress (MWC) and Game Developers Conference (GDC) severely overlap this year, and not just in dates apparently. HTC just announced the Vive VR headset at MWC, which was developed alongside Valve. The developer edition will contain two 1200x1080 displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, and it will launch this spring. The consumer edition will launch this holiday. They made sure to underline 2015, so you know they're serious. Want more information? Well that will be for Valve to discuss at GDC.

htc-valve-vr.jpg

The confusing part: why is this not partnered with Oculus? When Michael Abrash left Valve to go there, I assumed that it was Valve shedding its research to Facebook's subsidiary and letting them take the hit. Now, honestly, it seems like Facebook just poached Abrash, Valve said “oh well”, and the two companies kept to their respective research. Who knows? Maybe that is not the case. We might find out more at GDC, but you would expect that Oculus would be mentioned if they had any involvement at all.

Valve will host an event on the second official day of GDC, March 3rd at 3pm. In other words, Valve will make an announcement on 3/3 @ 3. Could it involve Left 4 Dead 3? Portal 3? Will they pull a Crytek and name their engine Source 3? Are they just trolling absolutely everyone? Will it have something to do with NVIDIA's March 3rd announcement? Do you honestly think I have any non-speculative information about this? No. No I don't. There, I answered one of those questions.

Source: HTCVR

MWC 2015: Samsung Has Officially Announced the New Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2015 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: SoC, smartphones, Samsung, MWC 2015, MWC, Galaxy S6 Edge, galaxy s6, Exynos 7420, 14nm

Samsung has announced the new Galaxy S phones at MWC, and the new S6 and S6 Edge should be in line with what you were expecting if you’ve followed recent rumors.

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The new Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge (Image credit: Android Central)

As expected we no longer see a Qualcomm SoC powering the new phones, and as the rumors had indicated Samsung opted instead for their own Exynos 7 Octa mobile AP. The Exynos SoC’s have previously been in international versions of Samsung’s mobile devices, but they have apparently ramped up production to meet the demands of the US market as well. There is an interesting twist here, however.

14nmOcta.jpg

The Exynos 7420 powering both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is an 8-core SoC with ARM’s big.LITTLE design, combining four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. Having announced 14nm FinFET mobile AP production earlier in February the possibility of the S6 launching with this new part was interesting, as the current process tech is 20nm HKMG for the Exynos 7. However a switch to this new process so soon before the official announcement seemed unlikely as large-scale 14nm FinFET production was just unveiled on February 16. Regardless, AnandTech is reporting that the new part will indeed be produced using this new 14nm process technology, and this gives Samsung an industry-first for a mobile SoC with the launch of the S6/S6 Edge.

GSM Arena has specs of the Galaxy S6 posted, and here’s a brief overview:

  • Display: 5.1” Super AMOLED, QHD resolution (1440 x 2560, ~577 ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
  • OS: Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop) - TouchWiz UI
  • Chipset: Exynos 7420
  • CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
  • GPU: Mali-T760
  • Storage/RAM: 32/64/128 GB, 3 GB RAM
  • Camera: (Primary) 16 MP, 3456 x 4608, optical image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash
  • Battery: 2550 mAh (non-removable)

The new phones both feature attractive styling with metal and glass construction and Gorilla Glass 4 sandwiching the frame, giving each phone a glass back.

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The back of the new Galaxy S6 (Image credit: Android Central)

The guys at Android Central (source) had some pre-release time with the phones and have a full preview and hands-on video up on their site. The new phones will be released worldwide on April 10, and no specifics on pricing have been announced.

Ahead of MWC, 2015 Is Shaping up to Be a Good Year for Low-Cost Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | February 28, 2015 - 04:42 PM |
Tagged: smartphones, MWC 2015, MWC, Moto E, LG Magna, ios, Android 5.0

Last year my favorite smartphone became the 2014 version of the Moto G. This was (and still is) a $179 unlocked Android phone that shipped with 4.4.4 KitKat, but recently received an OTA update to 5.0 Lollipop (and subsequently 5.0.2 via a second OTA update). Motorola’s aggressive pricing made the phone compelling on paper, but using the device was even more impressive. It looked good, with a 5-inch 720p IPS display and the same design language as the Moto X and later Nexus 6, and ran a virtually untouched stock Android OS. It was never going to win any awards for raw speed, but the quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC was plenty fast for daily use. The main drawback was a glaring one, however: the Moto G was not LTE capable. Enter the new Moto E.

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The Moto E 2nd Edition

Here are some quick specs from Motorola:

Moto E 2nd Edition (LTE capable)
4.5” 540x960 display
Android 5.0.x
Snapdragon 410
Quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53/Adreno 306
1GB RAM/8GB storage
2390 mAh battery
Unlocked, $149

We are already off to a solid start in 2015 with a great option from Motorola in the new 2nd edition Moto E. This LTE capable smartphone might look a little chunky, but the specs make it more that just a compelling option at $149 (unlocked) as it could have the disruptive impact on price that Microsoft just couldn’t make last year with their inexpensive Lumia phones. With 2015’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) fast approaching the Moto E has already been making some noise in the affordable phone space that last year’s Moto G played a big part in, and this time the message is clear: in 2015 a smartphone needs to have LTE, regardless of price.

To be fair Microsoft has already addressed need for LTE with their low-cost Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 635 (which is actually selling for just $49 on Amazon now), but the app ecosystem for the platform is just too restrictive to make it a viable solution compared to Android and iOS. Honestly, I love the Windows Phone OS but there are too many missing apps to make it a daily driver. So, since Windows clearly isn’t the answer and Apple won’t be selling a sub-$200 unlocked smartphone anytime soon (the cheapest unlocked iPhone is the 8GB 5c at $450), that leaves Android (of course).

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LG's 2015 mid-range smartphone lineup

Another possibility comes from LG, as ahead of MWC there was a press release from the company showcasing their new “mid-range” smartphone lineup for 2015. Among the models listed is another phone that matches the specs associated with a $200-ish unlocked phone, but pricing has not been announced yet.

LG Magna (LTE capable) - Unreleased
5.0” 720x1280 display
Android 5.0.x
Quad-core 1.2/1.3GHz
1GB RAM, 8GB storage
2540 mAh battery

We await the announcements from MWC and there are sure to be many other examples of low-cost LTE devices, but already it’s looking like it won’t take more than $200 and a SIM card to avoid the endless device upgrade cycle in 2015.