July 28, 2014

34 Weeks of OHA #20

My apologies to all the loyal readers out there for missing the article last week. I was spending some time in Seattle, doing the company-paid-for training course thing. I couldn’t find the time to get an article together. No worries, though, I’m back. Oh, and, stay tuned for next week’s profile, for which I’ve paid a few bribes and cashed in a few favours in order to bring you all something very, very special. You’ll love it, promise. I just wish this week’s article could live up to what will be coming next week…

Company Name: NVIDIA Corporation

How the OHA site classifies them: Semiconductor Company

What the OHA site says about them: NVIDIA is the worldwide leader in programmable graphics processor technologies. Its GoForce family of multimedia applications processors are designed for the mobile phone, PMP and PND markets.

What they do: They make graphics chips. You know this already, I don’t have to tell you. If you haven’t heard of NVIDIA, you need to go back to geek school.

The NVIDIA history as its relayed in their Wikipedia article is, really, not all that interesting. It starts out alright, with a couple of failed products punching up the first act of an underdog-rises-to-the-top success story, but it loses steam by the final third and degenerates into petty squabbling with ATI punctuated by a string of meaningless series numbers (Geforce 1 thru 8), abbreviations (GPGU, SLI, CUDA) and stand-alone prefixes (‘Ultra’). I’ve never been much of a gamer, so its hard to attach any sort of significance to this stuff.

Their website touts them as “the inventor of the GPU” and “the world leader is visual computing technologies”. NVIDIA is the 2nd largest graphics chip producer in the world, behind Intel who kinda doesn’t count. Certainly in the Gaming and High-End graphics space NVIDIA is the leader (although longtime rival ATI is always in the shadows, lurking around, maiming kittens and shafting Linux users). NVIDIA’s GeForce line is almost household name, and they continue to set standards for graphics chip technology.

I don’t have an NVIDIA in my laptop. I could have, but I opted for the Intel integrated job ’cause it was cheaper and I don’t do much gaming anyway. Also, Intel offers open source Linux drivers, which NVIDIA and ATI do not, and I hoped that would mean better support. Unfortunately, the Intel open source drivers are, apparently, ass; if I had gone with the NVIDIA chip then when I suddenly got interested in playing Eve Online I could have gone ahead and done so under Linux, rather than having to boot into Vista (the OS of Satan) just to get full pixel shader support. But enough about me.

What they bring to OHA and Android:

The piece that NVIDIA brings to the mobile space is their line of mobile/PDA, low-power graphics chips. Featuring nPower, whatever the hell that means. The big badass in their GoForce line is the 6100, offering VGA res at 30 fps H.264 or MPEG-4, 10 megapixel camera sensor support, integrated audio subsystem, TV encoder, S-Video out, and the ability to drive LCD displays at WVGA resolution, all attached to a 250mhz core with low power consumption. Oh, and it includes full DRM support, in case you were in the market specifically for a chip that would suck all your freedoms away.

There are a number of other GoForce offerings, but they’re all given numbers lower than 6100, so I don’t care.

My first feeling was that NVIDIA is here in the OHA for the same reason most of the other semiconductor companies are: because the Android dev team needs their participation in order to ensure that the platform will run on the hardware. I’ve talked about this before. Basically Google needs reference hardware and the specs to go with it to ensure the compatibility of the OS. The hardware manufacturers such as NVIDIA, conversely, have relatively little to lose by providing the specs and reference hardware in the hopes that Android and the OHA goes big and their name can go along for the ride.

But, maybe I’m wrong on this one. Maybe NVIDIA has been working with the Android folks on something big. It’s not unprecedented: NVIDIA has a close relationship with Microsoft, and the two have been working together to bring NVIDIA’s APX2500 to fruition. NVIDIA calls the APX2500 an “applications processor”; it brings an up-to 750mhz processor together with audio/video processing, an ULP (Ultra Low Power) GeForce processor, up to 12 megapixel camera support, 720p HD, SXGA LCD, and both composite and S-Video outputs. Pretty hardcore.

This thing is branded as “The key to building the next generation smartphone for Microsoft Windows Mobile devices,” and it is custom-built to interact with Windows Mobile. The question here is: will there be an Android-specific APX implementation? NVIDIA has indicated that the APX2500 is but the first in a family of APX application processors. Will Android get some APX lovin’? Is NVIDIA nothing more than just another semiconductor company throwing their names in with the cool kids hoping to reap some benefits, or will there be something truly unique coming out of their collaberation with Google? I certainly hope for the latter.

Looking for a clue, I turned to the OHA quotes page, hoping there would be something specific mentioned. There isn’t, but I’m going to add the quote anyway, ’cause it fills space, and leaving readers with someone else’s words goes a long way to improve their opinion of my articles. So, until next week, here’s Michael Rayfield, general manager of NVIDIA’s mobile business:

As the mobile phone becomes our most personal computer, the user experience has never been more important. NVIDIA will be working within the Open Handset Alliance to enable rich media acceleration on a new generation of devices based on the Android platform.

Word.