Mobiles to get Dreamcast-like 3D video

Chipmaker TI has become the latest company to license the PowerVR graphics architecture, once used in Sega's Dreamcast and now heading for handheld computers and mobile phones

Texas Instruments is to build video game console-quality 3D graphics capabilities into its line of processors for handheld computers and mobile phones.

The company, a leader in wireless chips, said on Wednesday that it would license Imagination Technologies' PowerVR MBX core for use in its OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) family of application processors, which power Palm handheld computers, Windows CE devices and Symbian smartphones, among other devices.

OMAP is essentially a blueprint for building devices based on TI's digital signal processors (DSPs), application processors and other silicon. The chips compete with Intel's Xscale chips; Intel has separately licensed PowerVR.

PowerVR MBX is expected to put console-level graphics into low-power mobile devices. The technology has low memory requirements, a factor crucial in highly integrated devices like phones, and one directly related to power consumption.

Imagination said that PowerVR would be used to enable mobile features such as 3D gaming, videoconferencing and multimedia messaging services. "The combination of TI's application processor expertise and Imagination's graphics technology will provide the basis for a mobile content revolution," said Paul Werp, worldwide director of marketing for OMAP, in a statement.

The first products using PowerVR MBX are expected to appear in 2004 or 2005.

Imagination knows something about gaming graphics, since the PowerVR architecture has already been used in arcade games and Sega's Dreamcast videogame console.

Imagination worked with ARM, a chip designer whose cores power Palm and Pocket PC handheld computers and the majority of mobile phones, on adapting PowerVR for mobile processors, resulting in the PowerVR MBX core. ARM licenses a core that combines PowerVR MBX and ARM's own technology.

PowerVR achieves low memory bandwidth through a technique called tile-based rendering, which is now beginning to catch on in the high-performance graphics world, as a way to combat memory bottlenecks in PCs and gaming consoles. The technique economises on memory bandwidth by communicating only the pixels that need to be rendered.

Low memory requirements will also have an impact on price, as manufacturers will not be forced to use more expensive high-performance memory.

By a fluke, Imagination has recently become known in the UK for a product that has little to do with its core graphics business. The company's Evoke-1, the UK's first sub-£100 digital radio, has become an unexpected top seller since its launch last summer, with thousands of unfilled orders at retail outlets such as department store John Lewis. Imagination runs Pure Digital, its digital radio subsidiary, as a showcase for its intellectual property.

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