Technology: NVidia’s Tegra K1

January 14, 2014
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It’s all a little vague right now, but the glimmering curvy love object that is NVidia’s Tegra K1 promises a gaming future with ambitions way past Bioshock Initiative and updates of the Super Mario Brothers. This week at CES, the company offered a hands-on time with the new mobile processor powering advanced graphics demos, including a first look at Trine 2 running on a tablet.

The product may be new, but the company itself is relatively old school. Formed in Santa Clara, California in 1993, this triumvirate of engineers, CEO Jen Sun-Huang, and two ex-Sun Systems whizz-kids, Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem, had sky-high ambitions from the get-go. Having started out as GPU (Graphic processing units) manufacturers, they then diversified into System On chip units (SOC’s) and were valued, according to the BBC, as being worth just under US$3bn. Very ambitious, in 2013 they decided to take the plunge and entered the gaming industry with their handheld Nvidia Shield.

Showing off both his big entrepreneurial heart and a fine sense of moxy, Huang gave his graduate alma mater Stanford University US$30m to build the Jen-Hsun Huang School of Engineering Center in 2013. Replete with academic and engineering industry status, the Taiwanese genius is now reaching for the brass ring of commerce. His coming-out party for NVidia is at CES.

Having proclaimed the sheer raw power of its 192 graphics cores, Nvidia are sticking to their guns over the company’s bellicose claims that the Tegra K1 surpasses the Xbox 360 and PS3. Fair enough, they’re old – yesterday’s news, so to speak – but boasting that you’re superior to “many PCs out there” when you own the identical architecture to your average desktop GPUs seems a tad disingenuous. And it’s all of no true import, really, because it’s totally capable of punching out HDR lighting, global illumination and surface scattering. Nvidia staged a really superior showcase at the Consumer Electronics Show exhibiting on Tegra K1-enabled reference tablets, running its Ira facial animation demo and a jaw-droppingly, awe-inspiring Unreal 4-based living room lighting demo.

The level of scintillating detail and photorealism is exquisitely specific. Layered colors are so rich and impressive that up-close viewing can fool you into thinking it’s 3D. You feel like you can pick out each Van Gogh brushstroke as it’s rendered in Realtime, especially when the demonstration is on a pixel-dense tablet display. A Bluetooth gamepad allows you to tool around with both models and I can’t help but blather on in hyperbolic terms about its innate ability to inspect the smallest of details. The Tegra K1 even had me daydreaming way into the mire of wish fulfillment in the same virtual reality made to show in minute detail how the City of Florence would look from the POV of Etzio in Assassin’s Creed 2 as he traverses the medieval city in search of his next victim. Miraculous how you can render objects and lighting simply based on your position.

What also impressed was that both ran smoothly. I caught no glitches whatsoever, smoothly going through various transformations throughout, never faltering even in face of sprinting graphics, rapid movement or extreme perspective variations. Along with those mock-ups, the Tegra K1 had been adapted to play Frozenbyte‘s PC game, Trine 2, and it looked and performed fantastically well on a tablet. In fact, with the use of a Moga Pro gamepad, it was just like playing the original version. And according to Nvidia, it only took developer Frozenbyte a matter of weeks to adapt from its original due to Tegra K1‘s Kepler architecture.

Well, now all we have to do is wait patiently, children. Will Tegra K1 be the path-finding ones, melding a brave new gaming world of PC, consoles, and mobile? They’ve definitely come the closest so far.

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