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CES 2013: What's Notable about Nvidia's Tegra 4 Chip

By Matthew Braga

Company CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took to the stage on the eve of CES to announce his company's new mobile chipset plans – including faster processing and LTE capabilities.

Nvidia kicked off CES a bit early on Sunday night, announcing its new mobile processor Tegra 4 – and as you might expect, company CEO Jen-Hsun Huang promised it would improve upon its predecessor in every way. But while a faster GPU and CPU are all well and good, it was the addition of an LTE modem and Nvidia's fancy new computational photography engine that offered the most insight into where Huang hopes to take the Tegra 4 line.

Playing to Nvidia's graphical expertise, Tegra has always been about imbuing mobile form factors with powerful GPUs – and the Tegra 4 appears to be no exception. 72 GPU cores means that Nvidia's new chip will, supposedly, offer six-times the processing power of Tegra 3 (though we'd wait for some third-party benchmarks to put things into perspective). We did get to see Huang output native 4K video content to a television from a Tegra 4 device later in the show, in addition to some brief demos of Android platform games, but not much else.

Similar to its predecessor, the Tegra 4 also boast a quad-core processor. But while Tegra 3 used ARM's old Cortex-A9 CPU cores, Tegra 4 is the first quad-core chip to use ARM's new Cortex-A15 (there's also a fifth low-power core that Tegra 4 can switch to save battery life). What does that mean for you? Huang performed a few tests on stage to illustrate the chip's newly equipped processing powers, including rendering tests versus a Nexus 10, and HDR processing with Nvidia's new computational photography engine.

The latter is particularly interesting; Nvidia claims to have combined the processing power of Tegra 4's GPU, CPU and a camera's image signal processor to create photos with high-dynamic range (HDR) almost instantly (a process that can take almost two seconds in other phones). But that doesn't mean you can just take pictures more quickly. Nvidia also says its computational photography engine makes it possible to record video wit HDR in real-time. (Admittedly, the framerate of the demo wasn't particularly encouraging, according to some).

Finally, Tegra 4 finally offers the promise of LTE – something the Tegra 3 noticeably lacked. Combined with Nvidia's improvements in photography, you'd think Tegra 4 seems purpose-built for the smartphone market. But as Ars Technica's Andrew Cunningham point's out, the chip's size and power requirements mean that tablets will likely be favored for now. In fact, what we didn't get from Nvidia were details on pricing or availability – meaning the only confirmed Tegra 4 device thus far is the company's new portable gaming hardware Project Shield. We'll keep our eyes out for more Tegra 4 powered devices on the show floor and let you know if we learn more.