Advanced Imaging

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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Those Silly Games

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By Keith Reid

For many years now, raw computing power has hardly been an issue at the consumer level. Consumer electronics devices have been relatively undemanding where processing power is concerned. Similarly, home and office PCs have been well ahead of the productivity application curve since the first Pentium-era chips (and their Motorola competitors) managed to tame even the biggest spreadsheet. It’s a safe bet that for most household and business users, the biggest PC hardware upgrade driver has been increasingly hungry Microsoft operating systems.

However, one consumer market has always had a “need for speed” — computer and console gaming. Creating a dynamic, interactive, high-resolution 3D universe requires far more computing power than working on a word processing document. The consumer gaming market (worth some $25 billion internationally, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers), is driven by enthusiasts willingness to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars on a regular basis to make that 3D universe come alive on the big screen TV or computer monitor. The drive to deliver such “eye candy” has led to some interesting hardware crossovers with significant potential where advanced imaging is required.

The Cell Processor (see article on pg. 12), jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba will power the next generation Playstation 3 console when it debuts towards the end of 2006. Cell will also power a range of hardware solutions from Mercury Computer Systems with a focus on imaging applications. The term “supercomputer” has even been tossed about in association with the chip, though that is perhaps somewhat of a stretch. The Cell design team stepped outside the box to deliver this level of performance at a fairly low price point, but at the same time added programming complexity which will play a factor in the market as Cell becomes available. Nor does Cell excel in all processing functions, though what it does very well is right in line with what’s required for imaging.

“To some, it’s odd that a gaming device would be spawning a discussion of imaging and supercomputing, but to us that is quite reasonable,” said Joel Radford vice president of strategic marketing and alliances for Mercury. “The (intellectual property) industry has matured, and the growth is slowing. Conversely, enabling a video stream, whether it’s aimed at a gaming device, or IPTV or some other consumer-electronics phenomenon is really in a very early stage. I think it’s a very exciting time for traditional imaging companies. There is the opportunity for lots of additional enablement that is going to come from those (consumer) volumes that those of us in smaller-volume markets can take advantage of. We can reach a lot farther into the future than we thought we could a few years ago.”

Keith Reid
Editor, Advanced Imaging



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