Mobiles to get PowerVR 3D this year

2004 will see the first handheld devices using the same 3D technology that powered the Dreamcast gaming console

The first portable products using Imagination Technologies' PowerVR MBX 3D graphics technology will ship this year, and will represent a "significant step ahead" from products such as Nintendo's GameBoy Advance and Nokia's N-Gage, Imagination said on Thursday.

Imagination is showing off PowerVR-based products at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and later on Thursday will announce support for the OpenGL ES programming interface in PowerVR MBX products. OpenGL ES, based on the OpenGL interface used for desktop 3D development, allows programmers to create 3D code that is usable on different hardware platforms.

ATI launched its own mobile 3D offering, the Imageon 2300 line of graphics processors, on Wednesday, and said those chips will support OpenGL ES. Nvidia this week joined the Khronos Group, the standards body behind OpenGL ES, as did ETRI, Futuremark, Oki, Secret Level, TAKUMI and WOW4M.

The Imageon 2300 was the first 3D chip for mobile phones announced with OpenGL ES support, but Imagination's technology is likely to appear in products well before ATI or other competitors. Imageon 2300 chips will begin shipping in the first quarter of this year, but the lengthy design process for consumer electronics means it will be some time before finished products appear.

Products using the PowerVR MBX and MBX Lite cores will be "a very significant, obvious step ahead of current products," said Imagination spokesman David Harold. "Certainly they will be a lot more capable than something like the GameBoy Advance or the N-Gage... the N-Gage is a toe-in-the-water kind of a product."

PowerVR, earlier used in the Sega Dreamcast gaming console, uses little memory bandwidth or power, but is capable of delivering console-level performance in handheld devices, Harold said. "It is more feature-rich than the Dreamcast chip, and delivers a similar level of performance," he said.

The core can also be used to enhance basic graphical user interface elements, allowing developers to give mobile phones the levels of 3D and animated effects familar from next-generation PC user interfaces, Harold said.

PowerVR customers include chipmakers Intel, Texas Instruments, NEC, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Renesas and Frontier Silicon, who integrate the core into their own chips. Details of which upcoming chips and products will use PowerVR have not been made public, but some chipmakers have completed their chips, and have signed customers, according to Harold. TI and Intel both make chips for smartphones as well as handheld computers such as PocketPC and Palm OS devices.

Harold said the first PowerVR-powered devices are scheduled to ship this year.

Imagination on Thursday will announce OpenGL ES support in PowerVR MBX and MBX Lite for any Symbian OS or Linux device, and Imagination is also supporting OpenGL on Windows CE for a specific, unnamed customer. Windows CE -- the basis for Pocket PC, Windows for Smartphones and other Microsoft portable devices -- could get generic support later on, Harold said.

OpenGL ES support means that 3D software developed with the API (application programming interface) can be ported to any Symbian or Linux device, for example, with a PowerVR MBX core, creating a larger and more homogenous market for developers.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Imagination is demonstrating a development processor from UK chip designer ARM designed to show off the PowerVR MBX's capabilities. The PrimeXsys Versatile Platform, based on a single chip combining ARM9 and MBX cores, is running a Quake 2-style game.