Monday, July 7, 2008

Sony Wants to Make Blu-Ray More Interactive

Just in case customers were sure that Blu-ray disc (BD) profile 2.0 was the final one for the format, Sony Corp. said that it would be glad to add further features would add features that will further differentiate Blu-ray from DVD, but which may potentially involve a new profile and hardware changes.

“If we had a dream (for) Blu-ray, it would be much more interactive than it is today: No. 1, where you could interface and change things as you want to see them on the screen. No. 2, you could socially interact with other people, it’s connected through the Internet, but theoretically you and your friend could watch the same movie, and you could change themes, change endings, all sorts of strange things in the future. Some type of social interaction in the future,” said Stan Glasgow, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics USA, in an interview with Cnet.

The Blu-ray disc (BD) format features three profiles: 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0. The BD profile 1 only allows to watch movies in high-definition (1920x1080, 1080p) resolution; the BD profile 1.1 supports picture-in-picture function, which allows to watch a 1080p movie while simultaneously listening to director’s comments or see how the particular scene was filmed; the BD profile 2.0 (also known as BD Live) is projected to offer Internet connectivity to allow downloading of additional content as well as Java-based games in addition to some other Java-based features that content providers may enable.

It is unclear whether the additional features will require a new profile, but another hardware change may further slowdown penetration of the format. Still, Sony is relatively optimistic about the progress of the format right now, but the company admits that those customers who are satisfied with DVD will hardly acquire Blu-ray shortly.

“DVD took 10 years to really penetrate. We’re now in the second year of Blu-ray. My guess is it will probably happen a little quicker in terms of penetration. The pricing is already coming down more quickly than DVD came down. The pricing is already coming down more quickly than DVD came down. I don't think it will take as long as 10 years, but I don't think it will penetrate to the same percentage because there's a couple of conflicting forces,” said Mr. Glasgow.

Via Nano Processors Set to Arrive in August or September

Despite of earlier made claims, Via Technologies’ Nano microprocessors are set to arrive on the market substantially later. According to claims made by the company, Via now plans to start shipping the chips in August or even September.

Back in March, 2008, Glenn Henry, chief executive of Centaur Technology, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Via Technologies, said in an interview that the company would commercially release its new code-named Isaiah microprocessors, which are now called Via Nano, in May or June. Later on the company said that its partners would be able to ship devices based on the Via Nano central processing units in Q3, but now the firm notified its investors that it would start delivering its latest processors only in August or even September, reports DigiTimes web-site.

According to Via Technologies, it had received orders “from at least three first-tier PC vendors” on its Via Nano processors that are aimed at low-cost low-power personal computers. However, no actual names were released.

Via Nano is the first x86 processor from Via Technologies that features 64-bit instruction set along with a superscalar and out of order execution engine, macro-fusion and micro-fusion functionality, advanced branch prediction mechanism, advanced floating point unit as well as support for virtualization technology and Via PadLock security engine.

The new chips that belong to the Isaiah family will also feature Adaptive PowerSaver Technology that further reduces power consumption and improve thermal management, including the unique TwinTurbo dual-PLL implementation, which permits smooth transitions between activity states within one clock cycle, ensuring always-on service and minimize latency, as well as new mechanisms for managing the die temperature.

Via Nano processors operate at 1.0GHz – 1.80GHz clock-speeds and consume from 5W to 25W.

Nvidia Plans Further Price-Cuts for Latest Graphics Cards

Nvidia Corp., the world’s No. 1 supplier of discrete graphics processing units, plans to further reduce pricing of its high-end graphics cards to sustain its market share, market rumours claim. But there are some problems: customers who have already paid for their expensive graphics boards would hardly be happy with price-cut, moreover, manufacturing costs may be too high and Nvidia may not afford a price reduction.

Citing sources among Nvidia add-in-card partners, HotHardware web-site reported that Nvidia plans to lower the price of its flagship GeForce GTX 280 graphics card to $499 from $649 shortly from now. Presently the company’s partners sell less expensive GeForce GTX 260 for $399, however, it is unclear whether the developer plans to reduce the pricing of this model too.

“[The GeForce GTX 280 price] may be a little higher, or potentially even a little lower (than $499), but that [is] something definitely in the works,” an anonymous supplier of graphics cards said in a brief interview with HotHardware web-site.

The GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 280 graphics cards are based on Nvidia G200 graphics processing unit, which is very large in size and is believed to be very expensive to manufacture. Actual graphics cards utilize very advanced power supply chain as well as 512-bit memory bus, thus, they are pretty expensive to make as well. While the exact price of the chip is unknown, it is believed to be over $100, which is a very high price for a chip. Since the manufacturing costs are very high for Nvidia, it is unclear whether the company will make substantial profit selling its high-end products.

Nvidia needs to decrease pricing of its high-end graphics cards as its arch-rival ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, is finally back with high-performance ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 graphics cards that are priced at $199 and $299, respectively. According to performance benchmarks, two ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics boards quite frequently outperform the GeForce GTX 280 while costing less, which is why many enthusiasts may prefer two higher-end ATI Radeon HD 4870 models over the offering from Nvidia, even despite of the fact that multi-GPU operation heavily relies on drivers.

Earlier this week Nvidia issued a warning regarding its earnings during the second quarter of fiscal 2009.

Nvidia did not comment on the news-story.

Nvidia Lowers Sales Guidance amid Chipset Flaws and Decreasing Prices of Graphics Chips

Nvidia Corp., the world’s largest supplier of graphics processing units, has issued a warning regarding lower sales during the ongoing quarter. The company blamed issues with its chipsets as well as low prices of graphics processing units for its fiscal results.

According to Nvidia, second quarter revenue and gross margin are expected to be lower than guidance provided during its first quarter financial conference call and be from $875 million to $950 million. The company said that the estimated decrease in revenue and gross margin is due to several reasons, including the delayed ramp of a next generation core-logic set, price adjustments of the graphics processors to respond to competitive products as well as “end-market weakness around the world”.

This is the first time in years when Nvidia admitted that it has to lower pricing of its graphics processing units to respond to a relatively successful product launch of its main rival, ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices.

Separately, Nvidia plans to take a one-time charge from $150 million to $200 million against cost of revenue for the second quarter to cover anticipated warranty, repair, return, replacement and other costs and expenses, arising from a “weak” die/packaging material set in certain versions of its previous generation graphics chips and chipset products used in notebook systems. Certain notebook configurations with chips manufactured with a certain die/packaging material set are failing in the field at higher than normal rates. The company plans to seek to access insurance coverage for this matter.

“This has been a challenging experience for us. However, the lessons we've learned will help us build far more robust products in the future, and become a more valuable system design partner to our customers. As for the present, we have switched production to a more robust die/package material set and are working proactively with our OEM partners to develop system management software that will provide better thermal management to the GPU,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia.

Nintendo Still Unwilling to Add DVD Playback to Wii

Sony PlayStation 3 supports Blu-ray disc and DVD playback, Microsoft Xbox 360 supports DVD playback and HD DVD playback through add-on drive, but the most successful video game console nowadays – Nintendo Wii – supports neither standard definition video, nor high-definition video playback. Moreover, it will not shortly, according to Nintendo’s execs.

“With supply constraints [of the Wii] continuing worldwide, the priority is on the current model,” said Satoru Iwata, chief executive of Nintendo Corp., adding that Nintendo would further push back the release of the Wii with DVD support, reports Ign web-site citing Nihon Keizai Shimbun news-paper.

Back in November, 2006, Nintendo disclosed plans to release DVD-playback enabled version of Wii in the latter half of 2007. According to Sonic Solutions, a software developer, Nintendo intended to use Sonic CinePlayer CE DVD Navigator software engine, which supports such advanced functions as anamorphic widescreen video, motion menus, and multiple video angles, to power DVD playback on Wii.

“We had decided not to initiate sales of [DVD-enabled Wii] in 2007 due to the necessity to raise production efficiency for the single game console product type. Given the demand for Wii in Japan, Europe and the U.S., we had to raise manufacturing efficiency of the current versions,” Nintendo indicated late last year.

Nintendo Wii features IBM’s custom PowerPC architecture-based microprocessor named Broadway clocked at 729MHz and code-named Hollywood chip with built-in graphics core, DSP and I/O features from ATI that operates at 243MHz, earlier reports suggested. Nintendo Wii uses 91MB of memory in total: 23MB of “main” 1T-SRAM, 64MB of “external” 1T-SRAM and 3MB texture buffer on the GPU. Nintendo’s Wii does not feature a hard disk drive, instead, it boasts with 512MB of flash memory, but the console will also have a card reader, which will allow installing more memory.

Nintendo set the recommended retail price of ¥25 000 (about $204) in Japan, $249 in the U.S. and €249 ($342) in Europe.

Diamond Multimedia Preps Über-Overclocked ATI Radeon HD 4870 Graphics Card

Diamond Multimedia, a well-known supplier of graphics cards in the USA, has unveiled its new graphics board that would be, at least initially, available exclusively from a builder of high-end computers called Smooth Creations. The graphics card supplier claims that the graphics adapter powered by ATI Radeon HD 4870 chip is pre-overclocked so substantially that it can leave behind even Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 280.

“The Diamond Radeon HD 4870 XOC Black Edition was clocked to kick some ass. We didn’t just want a fast card out in the market, we wanted the fastest card that could kick the living daylights and bust some performance records. We wanted a card that kicked the competitions teeth into the curb, and that’s exactly what our engineers accomplished,” said Mario Gastelum, director of product development and engineering at Diamond.

Diamond “Unlocked” Radeon HD 4870 XOC Black Edition graphics card comes with graphics processing unit clocked at 800MHz and 512MB of GDDR5 memory operating at 4400MHz, up from 750MHz/3600MHz on reference design ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics adapter. Moreover, according to Diamond Multimedia, the firmware of the board was modified and the board can be overclocked even further and can leave behind the current flagship Nvidia, the GeForce GTX 280.

“The firmware was custom designed to enable end users to go beyond the normal over clocked speeds and allow them to push their cards for higher performance via the Catalyst Control Center. The GPU’s custom firmware has been unlocked to push cards to GPU settings of up to 950MHz and Memory of up 1200MHz,” said Mr. Gastelum.

The Diamond’s Radeon HD 4870 XOC Black Edition comes with a custom liquid-based cooling system from Danger Den, which ensures that extreme overclocking of the product does not affect its lifespan and stability of work.

Market rumours indicate that other leading suppliers of graphics boards may also start making “über-overclocked” graphics boards based on ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics processing units. Theoretically, with custom cooling solution, modification of power supply system and overclocking the ATI Radeon HD 4870 may leave behind much more expensive Nvidia GeForce GTX 280, but what should be kept in mind is that the latter may also be overclocked beyond its stock speeds as well.

Sales of Latest-Generation Wi-Fi 802.11n Equipment Gain Momentum Despite Lack of Standard

Even though the 802.11n standard has not been finalized yet, supporting equipment is becoming more and more popular on the market thanks to certification program by Wi-Fi Alliance. Nearly 50% of Wi-Fi chipsets sold this year are expected to adhere to the new 802.11n draft standard – double the number from 2007, according to the alliance.

“Across the board, and with a range of consumer and enterprise devices, we are seeing a real hunger for all things 802.11n draft 2.0. The standard has redefined the wireless experience, enabling streaming video, gaming, and other media throughout the home, while enabling advanced applications in enterprise networks,” said Edgar Figueroa, executive director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

To date, the Wi-Fi Alliance has put the Wi-Fi Certified seal of approval – indicating validated product interoperability – on 325 products and is seeing strong numbers of 802.11n draft 2.0 products presented for testing. Wi-Fi users have responded to the widespread availability of Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n draft 2.0 products with unprecedented enthusiasm.

Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n draft 2.0 products have been tested for interoperability across vendors, adherence to WPA2TM (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security protocols, and backward compatibility with more than 4500 Wi-Fi Certified 802.11 a/b/g products. The certification program also includes WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) quality of service, which helps deliver the best user experience with applications such as voice, video and gaming.

The products which have been Wi-Fi Certified to date in the program span both traditional PC networking gear and consumer electronics. Televisions, media servers, and gaming devices are among the products certified in the first year, and nearly half of the products also support Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which eases the process of configuring and protecting a home Wi-Fi network. Enterprise network managers can now choose from more 180 Wi-Fi Certified laptops, adapter cards, and networking solutions that include 802.11n draft 2.0.

The Wi-Fi Alliance plans to certify products based on the final version of the 802.11n standard once finalized by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

ABI Research forecasts that by 2013, more than 90% of Wi-Fi products will support 802.11n, underscoring the tremendous benefits of advanced Wi-Fi technology and the importance of interoperability certification in delivering the best user experience.

Microsoft to Cut Xbox 360 Prices in the U.S. by $50, Intro New Model

In a bid to revive sales of the Xbox 360 video game console in the U.S., Microsoft Corp. plans to drop the price of the “Pro” flavour of the machine and also introduce a new model with 60GB hard disk drives, according to market rumours.

As news-stories at Ars Technica and Hollywood Reporter claim, Microsoft intends to cut the price of the Xbox 360 20GB that now retails for $349 to $299 already this month and also introduce a model with 60GB hard disk drive, which will cost $349. Eventually the 20GB model will be discontinued, according to news-stories that cite anonymous sources.

Earlier this year – in February, March and April – the world’s largest developer of software lowered pricing of its Xbox 360 game console in Japan, Europe and several Asian markets in order to better compete against Nintendo’s Wii and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.’s PlayStation 3.

The plan for the USA market does not seem to be inline with price drop strategy for other markets. Enlarged storage space will hardly attract many new customers to Xbox 360 console, especially in case the entry-level Xbox 360 Arcade will continue to sell for $279, whereas the high-end Xbox 360 Elite will retain its price-level of $449.99 without improved functionality.

Microsoft Corp. did not comment on the news-story.

AMD Returns ATI All-In-Wonder Graphics Cards to Market

ATI All-In-Wonder graphics cards were hardly overwhelmingly popular among gamers, but were rather popular among multimedia fans. However, at some point ATI decided to stop selling such products despite of their relatively strong positions on the market. Now, roughly two years after ceasing of further development of AIW-series, ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, is bringing back the All-In-Wonder products to the market.

ATI All-In-Wonder HD graphics card is based on ATI Radeon HD 3650-series graphics processing unit and is equipped with 256MB of GDDR2 memory along with ATI Theater 650 Pro HDTV tuner. The graphics board will initially be available from Diamond Multimedia as well as VisionTek graphics cards suppliers.

"Never before has this level of HDTV and graphics performance been seen in an all-in-one PC multimedia solution. The award-winning ATI All-In-Wonder lineage is built on long-standing leadership in TV and video on the PC. For the hundreds of thousands of owners of previous ATI All-In-Wonder models and for those hungry to realize the full potential of their PC, we’re excited and proud to introduce the newest addition to AMD’s PCTV product family," said Matt Skynner, vice president of marketing at graphics products group of AMD.

Unfortunately, with the ATI Radeon HD 3650-series graphics processor the new ATI All-In-Wonder HD will hardly provide decent performance in modern games. Nevertheless, with DirectX 10.1 compatibility and rich feature set multimedia enthusiasts should be satisfied with their 3D engine.

Pricing of ATI All-In-Winder HD is unknown.

Future Intel Atom Processors Set to Power Next-Generation Apple iPhone

Even though Apple has acquired a chip designer and can now develop its own processors for its devices, some analysts believe that next-generation Apple iPhone handsets will be powered by Intel Atom central processing units (CPUs).

JoAnne Feeney, an analyst with FTN Midwest research company, said in a note that Apple iPhone based on Intel Atom processors is due in 2009 or 2010. Ms. Feeney believes that Intel Atom CPUs manufactured using 32nm process technology will find its home inside future multimedia phones by Apple and will be able to lower the manufacturing cost of the device amid increasing performance without substantial increase of power consumption.

The analyst notes that the Apple iPhone 3G is expected to use a customized Samsung application processor along with baseband, RF and GPS chips from Infineon, reports Barron's web-site. According to Ms. Feeney, the Samsung chip will cost Apple approximately $13.50 apiece. In case Apple can sell 25 million iPhone devices, Intel could generate incremental revenue of $250 million for Intel provided that Apple will use the least expensive Atom chip.

Earlier this year Apple acquired PA Semi, a designer of Power-architecture microprocessors with whom Apple already held talks several years ago. According to unofficial information, Apple paid $278 million in cash for PA Semi, but there are no direct or indirect proves for this.

PA Semi was founded in 2004 by Dan Dobberpuhl, who earlier designed Alpha and StrongARM processors at Digital Equipment (DEC) back in the nineties. The company employs engineers from Advanced Micro Devices, Intel Corp. and Sun Microsystems who have a lot of experience in creating advanced microprocessors.

Analysts from Gartner believes that Apple could easily implement the PowerPC architecture in future products, but it will probably take several years to introduce the appropriate designs since current products by PA Semi will hardly satisfy the company’s clients in terms of performance, whereas development of highly-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) implementations may take up to several years, the market research firm believes. Apple will need to re-architect PA Semi’s products by "rebalancing the I/O and adding a graphics controller, creating low-cost, low-power chips" that enable new features and price points for wireless devices.

It is interesting to note that frequent changes of microprocessors - from current ARM to x86 and to PowerPC - will hardly make applications development for Apple iPhone easier, hence, popularity of the platform among software creators may be compromised.

Apple or Intel did not comment on the news-story.

AMD Readies K8-Class Processors for Low-Power Systems – Pictures

Market sources recently revealed that Advanced Micro Devices readies low-power, low-cost central processing unit (CPU) to compete against Intel Atom processor on the market of ultra low-cost personal computers (ULCPC). Apparently, certain partners of AMD are already testing such a processor.

Based on “spy-shot” pictures of a 3.5” mainboard sent to X-bit labs, initially AMD’s 8W chips based on K8 micro-architecture in ball-grid array (BGA) packaging will be available for small form-factor industrial PCs, where Intel Pentium M and Intel Atom chips are already present alongside with relatively outdated AMD Geode microprocessors.

The K8 BGA microprocessors from AMD will have thermal design power of 8W, whereas the AMD M690E + SB600 chipset will have thermal design power of 8W + 2W~3W. Therefore, the whole system will have thermal design power of just about 20W, which is quite similar to a combination of Intel Atom N-series processor (2.5 – 4W TDP) and Intel 945GC chipset (15.2W – 22.2W).

According to media reports, the new AMD processor for ULCPCs will sport 64-bit K8 micro-architecture-based processing core, 64KB L1 instruction cache, 64KB L1 data cache, 256KB L2 cache as well as single-channel DDR2 memory controller. The central processing unit is projected to operate at 1.0GHz. AMD plans to ship the product in ball grid array packaging, which is ideal for low-cost, low-power and small form-factor systems. The chip is made using 65nm process technology.

Images of the 3.5” mainboard for industrial computing with “engineering sample” processor along with AMD M690E core-logic that is compatible with various latest AMD chips that use HyperTransport bus as well as ICS951464 main clock synthesizer chip for K8/AMD 690-based systems proof that there is a K8 processor in BGA packaging on the pipeline and that the only question is when it becomes available.

Advanced Micro Devices did not comment on the news-story.

Sony Bets on New Graphics Chip to Cut PlayStation 3 Costs

The head of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. said at a press conference that the PlayStation 3 video game console would start to use graphics processors that are made using thinner process technology this Fall. In addition, he said, Sony plans to continue working on the PS3 machine in order to make it cheaper to manufacture, which may also mean lower end-user price eventually.

“The Cell and RSX used in PS3s at launch were manufactured using a 90nm process technology. And now all PS3 Cells have shifted to 65nm process technology since last holiday season. […] As for RSX [at] 65nm process technology, [the development and manufacturing] has begun this year already, and will be ready for installment in autumn,” said Kazuo Hirai, chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., reports Next-Generation web-site.

Earlier Sony denied that certain models of PlayStation 3 got Cell processor made using 65nm process technology last Fall.

The Nvidia RSX graphics processor that is used inside the PlayStation 3 initially cost Sony $129 to make and was the most expensive component inside the system. Usually due to yield increases and other optimizations the cost may be lowered dramatically; still, another 33% drop in manufacturing costs due to switch from 90nm process technology to 65nm fabrication process would definitely play a substantial role for Sony PlayStation 3.

Mr. Hirai stressed that Sony Computer Entertainment is committed to continue reducing the number of components and decreasing the size of chips inside the PlayStation 3, which may ultimately result in smaller video game system at a much lower price.

Sony PlayStation 3 console is based on the Cell processor developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the RSX graphics chip by Nvidia Corp., wireless network and Bluetooth connectivity and is equipped with Blu-ray optical disk drive. There are several versions of the consoles available around the world with 60GB or 80GB hard disk drives and variable compatibility with PlayStation 1/2 games as well as 40GB version that cannot play old games at all. The official prices of Sony PlayStation 3 40GB and 80GB in the USA are $399 and $499, respectively, European customers have to pay €399 ($630) and €499 ($787) for 40GB and 60GB models, respectively, whereas Japanese gamers can obtain PlayStation 3 40GB for ¥39 980 ($376 or €238).

AMD Hopes for 20% Performance Improvement Thanks to Hybrid Microprocessors

Advanced Micro Devices has officially unveiled the first details about its forthcoming code-named Shrike mobile platform and code-named Swift processor that combines general purpose x86 core along with graphics processing engine. The company claims that its hybrid processors – with x86 and graphics cores – will help it to compete on the market of ultra-portable mobile systems.

AMD Shrike mobile platform will be based on the code-name Swift processor, which features two x86 processing cores, ATI Radeon HD DirectX 10.1-class graphics processing core, dual-channel DDR3 memory controller as well as PCI Express controller, according to a slide published by GottaBeMobile web-site. The chip will also support external graphics processors as well as DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI display interfaces.

The chipmaker hopes that its first accelerated processing unit (APU) that features general purpose and graphics processing units will provide 20% higher CPU performance and 35% higher GPU performance when compared to existing notebooks based on Puma platform.

What is, perhaps, more important than performance boosts, the Shrike platform will be able to compete on the market of ultra portable notebooks thanks to integration of CPU and GPU which means lower amount of chips per laptop. In addition AMD promises over 6 hours of battery life for Shrike-based notebooks.

At present AMD is practically absent from the market of ultra-portable notebooks: only several Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook models as well as some small mobile computers sold in Japan are powered by AMD Turion central processing units (CPUs).