Gaming ARM’s way

Gaming ARM's way

“And there are manufacturers in the far east bringing out tablets at less than $200,” adds Jim Wallace, a marketing director dealing with ARM’s move into technologies like smart TVs. “That brings you into the massmarket space, and potentially the same volume as smartphones. So you’re looking at 400 million units over the next couple of years – that’s a huge market.”

To illustrate where this tech is going, demo solutions manager Anand Patel powers up a Samsung Galaxy S II. The device is connected to an LCD TV via micro HDMI (a feature supported in several other high-end handsets from the likes of LG and Motorola) and it’s running a space-shooter demo, complete with various high-end lighting and shading effects – at 1080p. As a final flourish, Patel hits a button, and puts the demo into its stereoscopic 3D mode. Admittedly, the game is chugging slightly at 20fps, but Patel says the tech can handle 60fps, it’s just that this demo was written for ARM in just three months by a group of four Norwegian students working as interns. “That’s also using typical mobile phone memory,” Howarth adds. “We’re not running the latest 128bit DDR that you’ll find in a console – we have to deliver that performance in something with very little memory bandwidth. And typically that SoC has to operate at the maximum of 1.5 watts. A top-end Nvidia card runs at 300 watts.”

The Cortex-A15 is ARM’s next-gen technology, currently being implemented in high-end chipsets like Texas Instruments’ OMAP 5

But this isn’t just about driving a 1080p TV with your phone, it’s about the emergence of a new gaming ecosystem. One possibility that Plowman foresees is a new form of home network in which smart TVs, tablets and phones are able to seamlessly share HD content. “People talk about the cloud, but there’s a concept of localised clouding that I refer to as ‘the mesh’, which involves devices that are much more aware of the capabilities of each other. So I may have a tablet, which I use for input and viewing, but if I want to I can push the content to another device, in much the same way as Apple’s Airplay. That interaction between devices is probably how it will go.”

So in the living room of the future, you may be playing a game on your TV using a tablet as the controller, but when someone wants to watch a programme, you simply transfer your content to the small display in front of you and carry on. Or perhaps the TV will tell your tablet that the programme about to start has an accompanying online game. “I was speaking to NDS, who are very strong in the set-top box business,” says Wallace. “Their products know what you’re watching. You can bring gaming into that – if you’re watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, they can link your tablet to a WWTBAM game. That technology is here today – it’s just a case of rolling it out and working with operators.”