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CES 2014: A closer look at the non-gaming side of Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip

At this year’s CES, Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip was introduced with high-end games running the Unreal Engine 4 – but this is not just a gaming processor, said Matt Wuebbling, Nvidia's general manager for Tegra.

"It delivers a much better camera, with dual-image signal processors that are going to drive a lot of new use cases. It has dual 4K – we can drive a 4K panel and an external TV over HDMI. Computer vision, computational photography, advanced imaging, those all can use the GPU," he said.

The 192-core Tegra K1 announced at CES comes in two versions: One with quad ARM A15 CPUs, like the existing Tegra 4 chip, and one with dual 64-bit "Project Denver" CPUs. I kept pressing Wuebbling for more details on Project Denver's power, but he kept demurring; it looks like Nvidia is trying to save those details either for Mobile World Congress in February, or for its own graphics technology conference in March.

"I'm not going to go into depth on that, but it'll be interesting when it comes out," he said.

With the CPU off the table, Nvidia is left talking about the power of its Kepler GPU. That's why we heard so much about the games, and ended up riffing on other things you could do with a GPU in our chat.

"Can you mine Bitcoins? I could do so many of the crazy side things you do with a GPU. All the Kepler code, it just runs on K1, so there are a lot of funny things you can do with it," he said.

One thing Tegra K1 won't be able to do is decompress Google's new low-bandwidth 4K video codec, VP9, in hardware. The codec just wasn't available early enough, Wuebbling said. The new chip will have to use a combination of hardware and software for VP9; the next Tegra, meanwhile, will have VP9 in hardware.

Where are the Tegra phones?

While Nvidia's Tegra 4 has made some inroads into the tablet market with devices such as the Toshiba Excite Write, the company has struggled more on the smartphone front. We asked Wuebbling about why Nvidia hasn’t been able to land mobile phone clients over in the US, and he explained that Tegra 4’s Achilles heel has been LTE, which US carriers now generally require.

"Qualcomm makes a fantastic LTE modem, and one of, if not the only one, that's certified on the US carriers," Wuebbling said. "So you get Qualcomm application processors and modems in the US."

More phones based on Tegra 4, Tegra K1, and Nvidia's Tegra 4i, which offers an integrated modem, will appear this year and hopefully break the logjam, he said.

"Both the i500 and Tegra 4i have been certified by AT&T, and Vodafone, and you're going to see products with i500 and Tegra 4i during the first half of 2014. Our modem is great, we've hit the milestones, and now we're just waiting for product to appear," he said.

While you’re here, you might also want to check out our in-depth analysis of Nvidia’s Tegra K1 64-bit Denver core.