Nvidia's new Tegra K1 processor is an interesting beast--the company's latest mobile graphics chip isn't just about raw power (though it's got that), but also about making cross-platform game development easier.
And with the continually growing mobile market, that's an important factor, particularly for developers making higher-end PC and console games.
"It makes it really easy for developers to develop for a PC, console and mobile," said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior technical marketing director at Nvidia, in a CES interview. "Now that we've brought the same API spec to mobile, devs can develop games at the same time."
If you missed the report
yesterday, the K1 is based on the same Kepler architecture as Nvidia's top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 780 Ti desktop GPU, and supports DX11, OpenGL 4.4 and tessellation. Nvidia said it's energy-efficient too, comparing favorably against the Qualcomm S800 and Apple A7.
Ramaswamy noted that the K1's graphics performance is on the same level as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 -- looking at the graphics firsthand backs up that claim.
That would seem to spell out the possibility of disruption of traditional game consoles. Certainly Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said processors like K1 combined with Android would eventually eat into the markets controlled by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
But Ramaswamy said, "I don't think mobile devices will catch up with [the latest] consoles. [Xbox One and PS4 are] playing at a much higher power, at hundreds of watts and are capable of much better graphics."
"… In terms of disruption, yes, [K1 will] bring higher quality graphics and bring newer games faster to mobile devices, and revolutionize the mobile games business. But will it catch up with consoles that use hundreds of watts, in terms of graphics quality? I don't think so."
Once mobile graphics begin to overtake consoles, a new generation of consoles with more advanced graphics will release, Ramaswamy expects. "But maybe one day they will all merge into one device."
What the K1 does reflect is how mobile game production values are rapidly increasing, and customers' expectations will rise in terms of visual quality. Higher production values mean higher budgets, but at least developers who are already making games with advanced graphics on PC and console will have an easier time with cross-platform development.
Ramaswamy said mobile is Nvidia's fastest-growing business. "That doesn't mean that desktop isn't growing," he said. "We've got 30 percent desktop market share. But who knows, mobile may catch up with desktop."