Sunday, June 5, 2011

NVIDIA's Kal-El Glowball Shows off Dynamic Lighting & Quad-Core Physics on a Tablet

I've warned both Qualcomm and TI that the danger they have to face in the SoC space going forward isn't just NVIDIA engineering, but NVIDIA marketing. Although too aggressive for my tastes at times,

NVIDIA does know how to take a simple product release and turn it into an extremely polished technology launch. Even down to the materials NVIDIA shares with the press, to-date none of its competitors have built such pretty slides that make their way all over the web.

Obviously it's not just marketing with NVIDIA. After a rough start the Tegra 2 finally got real traction and has been the premier Android smartphone and tablet SoC since the beginning of the year. If you're buying an Android smartphone or tablet today, chances are the best option uses Tegra 2.

At MWC earlier this year NVIDIA announced its third applications processor, codenamed Kal-El. Kal-El will feature four ARM Cortex A9 cores with a shared 1MB L2 cache and MPE/NEON support (absent from Tegra 2). Kal-El will also fix the video decoder issue we've run into on Tegra 2 and should be able to play all high profile H.264 content with proper OS support. On top of all of that there's a faster GPU (12-core vs. 8-core plus higher throughput per core).

What does all of this have to do with NVIDIA's marketing? Today NVIDIA posted one of its famous tech demos running on a Kal-El reference platform to show off what's possible with the new SoC:

The video shows the output from a Honeycomb Kal-El development platform. In it you see techniques such as dynamic lighting and real-time physics. The latter uses all four of Kal-El's A9 cores, which you can see in action in the lower left of the video.

The Glowball demo is the perfect example of NVIDIA knowing how to execute on both the product and marketing sides when it comes to any major launch. Kal-El is still months away, but this is a great way to build excitement.

As always it's a pretty impressive tech demo but it's just that, a demo. As we've seen in the past, NVIDIA's tech demos are usually far more impressive than the actual titles we see released in the near term. After all, it's always easier to make a single scene look great vs. an entire game (not to mention that performance requirements go up as you add more dynamic characters in a given scene). But as a demo of what will be possible on a tablet by the end of the year, I can't complain.

NVIDIA said that Kal-El based devices are on track for release this holiday season. The original commitment was August 2011 but NVIDIA wouldn't be any more specific than to say that we may see some products launch before the holidays.

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