PalmSource teams with Nvidia on graphics

The desktop-graphics leader is to provide hardware for media-centric Palm OS devices

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia has signed up to tailor its mobile-graphics hardware for Palm OS-based devices, in a move that could beef up the devices' imaging, video and gaming capabilities.

Nvidia said on Wednesday that it has joined chipmakers such as Intel, ATI, M-Systems, Motorola, Samsung Semiconductor and Texas Instruments as a Palm OS Ready partner, which is a programme run by PalmSource, which licenses Palm operating system software to manufacturers. PalmSource will supply Nvidia with the materials necessary for the chipmaker to produce GoForce media processor drivers for the Cobalt and Garnet versions of the Palm OS.

At its Developers Conference in San Jose on Tuesday, PalmSource officially announced it would divide its operating system efforts, working on both entry-level and high-end versions of the operating system. The current OS 5 and related efforts will be known as Garnet, while the new OS 6 that shipped to device makers at the end of last year will be known as Cobalt. The move is designed to allow the operating system to be suitable for a wider range of cellphones and other wireless devices.

Nvidia's GoForce line of mobile media processors support multi-megapixel image capture, graphics acceleration for gaming, and video capture and playback, as well as driving multimedia applications and high-resolution displays. For graphics-intensive applications, a dedicated media processor can deliver better performance than a general-purpose processor such as Intel's XScale or Texas Instruments' OMAP chips.

The partnership with Nvidia is designed to allow Palm OS licensees to build media-centric devices, according to PalmSource chief executive David Nagel. "Licensees can leverage the tools and resources to build new products for the multimedia market that feature higher display resolutions, video capture and playback features," he said in a statement.

PalmSource is competing with increasingly powerful mobile phones running on operating systems such as Linux, the Symbian OS and Windows CE, and which are increasingly likely to include graphics acceleration for games and media applications.

Nvidia is not alone in its efforts to move into graphics-rich handheld devices, which could tap into the huge market for portable games, as well as offering more conventional imaging applications such as digital photography.

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 in January.

ATI launched its own mobile 3D offering, the Imageon 2300 line of graphics processors, in January, and said those chips will support OpenGL ES. Nvidia recently 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.

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, Imagination says.

CNET's Ina Fried contributed to this report.