NVIDIA at CES — the Year of the Tablet

Earlier today, I hit up the Nvidia (s nvda) press event at CES. As expected, the newest Tegra chip was announced and then demonstrated. This ARM Cortex-A9 is poised to kick the mobile market up a notch or two, based on what I saw and heard. It’s a dual-core mobile chip with eight independent processors — Nvidia says that it offers 10 times the performance of a smartphone CPU, four times over the older Tegra and only uses 500 milliwatts of power. Testing on a 5″ tablet yielded 140 hours of music playback, while the same device can play 16 hours of high-definition video on a single charge. That certainly jives with the recurring theme of convenient computing, which Nvidia defines as portability with performance.

Specs and rhetoric aside, what does it mean in real world products?

Quite a bit from what was shown — so much so, that the new Tegra platform is timed perfectly with what they company is calling “the year of the tablet.” Based on the brief demos, we should see portable slates with long battery life and potent performance. One such tablet shown was running Android faster than any smartphone or MID that I’ve ever seen. And that includes the new Nexus One, which I’ve had a chance to play with for a short while. But the real strength of Nvidia products has always been in the graphical area, so I’m on a “wait and see” mission as far as browsing, web apps and such. As far as that graphics performance, Nvidia appears to deliver — a 1080p video stream at 10 Mbps played flawlessly on a Tegra tablet. I have little doubt that such a platform will excel at media playback for hours.

Other related developments include news about Adobe (s adbe). The company’s cross-platform AIR product will be supported on Tegra, which opens up more opportunities for applications and digital magazines. Adding more appeal is support for high-quality 3D graphical gaming. Today I saw the potent Unreal Engine 3 running on a Tegra demo tablet, which opened my eyes to the likelihood of serious gaming on such devices. The entire tablet demo reminded me of the promise shown in that very first Origami Project video back in 2006: gaming, browsing and media consumption.

What’s different about today as compared to 2006 that make the “year of the tablet” claim more believable? ARM processing power has matured while battery needs have stayed reasonable, for one. Operating systems other than Windows have also gained acceptance, both by consumers and developers as well. The time is simply right for the old Origami concept to arrive — I saw it today on stage and I’m looking forward to seeing again on Saturday. I have some hands-on time scheduled with Nvidia to give you a closer look at the Tegra powered products you’ll be seeing later this year.