CES 2013 Retrospective: The year mobile took centrestage

CES 2013 Retrospective: The year mobile took centrestage

For the first time, the CEO of a mobile company held a pre-launch CES keynote; one which opened with the heart-thumping tunes of Psy’s planetary one-hit wonder, Gangnam Style and ended with another popular act, Maroon 5.

Paul Jacobs, the company’s chairman, touched on a number of themes, speaking about the benefits of a world where everything and everyone is “Born Mobile” and part of the so-called “generation M”.

But the highlight of the night for me was the launch of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-a-chip range, which illustrates how far mobile hardware has evolved over the last decade. For the first time ever, a mobile solution is offering a feature that is not available on desktop (or at least not in such an elegant fashion).

In a nutshell, the Snapdragon 800 series can encode and decode content at UltraHD resolutions, capturing and playing back at resolutions up to 4,096 x 2,304 pixels. That’s 9.44 million pixels in all, which is four-and-a-half times more than 1080p, and it all comes complete with 7.1 surround sound.

Sure, you can do the same thing on a desktop platform (powered either by Intel or AMD) but that would require significantly more resources especially for encoding content and is not currently available in a single, integrated package.

Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors can already output in 4K thanks to a new driver called Collage. This allows some motherboard manufacturers, like Gigabyte, to output video in UHD from Intel’s HD4000 integrated graphics (on Ivy Bridge silicon). But it uses two Thunderbolt outputs rather than a single HDMI port (that was used in a demo in Qualcomm’s CES 4K theater).

We will have to wait until later this year and Intel’s new architecture, Haswell, to be able to output in 4K through one connector. Qualcomm, on the other hand, already had working samples (a mobile/tablet development platform) that can encode/decode in 4K at its booth in CES 2013 and the first products are expected to hit the market as early as mid-2013.

Other key features that the Snapdragon 800 offers include a four-core CPU clocked at up to 2.3GHz, 4G LTE Cat 4, 802.11ac, dual ISP capable combining four 13.75-megapixel separate sensors to produce 55-megapixel shots and (possibly) UHD videos. Nvidia also launched a new system-on-chip, the Tegra 4, which can decode UHD content on the fly.

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