Tegra 4, gaming dominate Nvidia's 2013 plans

At CES, the chipmaker reveals bold new strides into quad-core processors and gaming, in a big way.

Project Shield debut at CES 2013.
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang introduces Nvidia Shield, a portable gaming device. James Martin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Nvidia has never been a timid company, and at CES 2013, the chipmaker stepped on the gas.

Nvidia's aggressive plans for cloud gaming, its Tegra 4 quad core processor, and Nvidia Shield, its first Nvidia-branded gaming device, set a course for placing the company in the limelight this coming year.

Project Shield: Portable gaming companion
The Android-based Project Shield is Nvidia's first attempt at selling a device bearing the Nvidia name. It strongly resembles a console controller, complete with joysticks and buttons. It can play Android, Tegra, and PC games, as well as play games streamed from the cloud. Still a prototype, Shield's name and final form could change before it hits store shelves. And that, said an Nvidia rep, could happen in a few months. Nvidia is targeting a Q2 launch, according to an Nvidia spokesperson.

As Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang puts it, Shield is the culmination of Nvidia's work in processor architecture and cloud gaming over the last five years. With Shield, Huang says, you can "play any device in any place on any screen...in an untethered way."

While Shield could open up a new stream of revenue and brand recognition, it's niche enough that success is no guarantee.

Portable gaming devices are many, and Nvidia, a component maker, doesn't traditionally dabble in device-making. However, it isn't entirely unaccustomed to piecing together hardware. In fact, it works with component-providers to assemble reference designs that are then shopped around to Nvidia's usual hardware partners.

Tegra 4 goes full speed ahead
With Tegra 4 -- which boasts dramatically improved processing speeds and new camera tricks -- Nvidia hopes to put the squeeze on current and future threats from Qualcomm, Intel, Samsung, and recently MediaTek .

In fact, CEO Huang claims Tegra 4 as the "world's fastest mobile processor."

Yet competitors will soon nip at its heels, including Qualcomm, which has its own CES press event scheduled , in which quad-core mobile chipsets will surely play a starring role.

Nvidia has made inroads getting its chips onto more than 10 major tablets in 2012, including the Google Nexus 7, Microsoft Surface RT, and the Asus Transformer Pad series.

Nvidia Grid
The Nvidia Grid is an integrated system that makes smooth cloud gaming possible, Nvidia says. James Martin/CNET

However, despite often being the first to market with quad-core enhancements, the company has been less successful denting Qualcomm's considerable smartphone clout, both in terms of the number of handsets, and in terms of performance.

In CNET's quad-core smartphone shootout, for example, the Tegra 3-fueled HTC One X+ came in the middle of the pack, behind the HTC Droid DNA , powered by a quad-core Qualcomm processor.

Nvidia's plan to integrate the Icera modem -- known as the i500 modem -- into its chipset will be key for growing its Tegra business in 2013. An integrated modem will be a more appealing buy for smartphone-makers, who would otherwise have to place a separate modem into their phones, as well as to the Tegra unit.

In addition, the integrated i500 modem will help Nvidia chip away at Qualcomm's market share, it's largest and most influential rival.

Next gaming frontier: The cloud
Huang underscored gaming in a big way with Nvidia Grid , a "fully-integrated system product" that enables cloud gaming in a smooth, accurate way. The benefits are clear: no heavy storage on the device, and games that can be paused and played on any Tegra-powered device, be it a desktop or gaming laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone.

Nvidia didn't forget its bread-and-butter GeForce gaming card either. The new GeForce Experience , a PC client to auto-optimize video games for a given desktop's settings.

Nvidia's expansion into new nuts-and-bolts hardware as well as the cloud are aggressive and actionable. Nvidia is clearly here to play ball.

 

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