NVIDIA talks tablets, cars and 3D at CES

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Remember this post from November? NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang visited Dubai and a mysterious tablet was captured by me in a photo and a crazy speculation that it was Apple’s tablet went around the world like wildfire. At that event in Dubai Huang told us that we should expect a lot of cool things coming out at CES and today he delivered on that.

In NVIDIA’s press conference Huang covered three areas: Tegra tablets, connected cars, and 3D Vision.

Starting talking about tablets, Huang said that 2010 will be the “year of tablets,” and with Apple’s anticipated announcement late this month that is easy to understand. Yesterday Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer showed an HP tablet and today Huang showed tablets from a number of manufacturers, including FoxConn and MSI. Tablets, Huang said, will fill the space between smartphones and notebooks. With screens the size of netbooks and notebooks but the mobility in terms of battery life of phones, tablets will be device users can take with them anywhere and enjoy for browsing the web, email, watch movies, play games and more.

The new Tegra 2

At the heart of making tablets into a long-awaited reality is a new Tegra 2 platform from NVIDIA. The new Tegra has a dual-core Cortex A9 processor, which makes up one part of its eight processors, and it includes a Geforce GPU. According to NVIDIA, the updated Tegra platform will be 10 times faster than a smartphone and run at only 500 milliwatts. This would mean it has better performance and less power consumption than competing alternatives, such as Intel’s Atom.

Important to the push for tablets is also that web applications are becoming more powerful and widely used. Huang several times referred to the Facebook application/game Farmville as one example. At least one tablet that he demoed was running Android and since Windows cannot run on Tegra it’s perhaps one other sign that NVIDIA wants to further develop an alternative to the dominating Intel/Windows duo.

Showing off a development tablet

For the second piece of NVIDIA’s announcements, connected cars, Huang was joined on stage by Mathias Halliger, UI Designer for Audi. They went on to sit in a model of an Audi car with the latest MMI (Multimedia Interface) in it on a display that appeared from the dashboard. On the display they demoed among other things navigation combined with Google Earth. Many Audi models in the USA will start being powered by NVIDIA graphics this year and in 2012 all Audi cars will be powered by Tegra.

3D is one of the main themes at this year’s CES it seems and NVIDIA is a powerful player in 3D in terms of gaming, movies and more. Talking about how NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology can help bring 3D to users, Huang showed many examples of how this can work in different applications. Notebook manufactures like ASUS, and MSI are already building 3D technology into their portables and Huang said Acer, Samsung and LG will build LCD displays compatible with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision.

NVIDIA 3D Vision requires 3D glasses, a monitor running at 120Hz, compatible NVIDIA graphics card, and Windows Vista or 7. Whether this technology will also work on Macs I don’t know but my guess is at least not for quite some time, if ever. Huang showed the gathered press examples of 3D games, movies and photos using NVIDIA 3D vision and many of them were indeed very impressive.

It’s clear that NVIDIA is hard at work on some really exciting stuff. I think Huang is spot on in many of his observations about tablets and I certainly look forward to what Tegra-based tablets we’ll see coming out in the coming months. Now it’ll be even more interesting to see what Apple will talk about on January 27.