ARM to bring 4K to smartphones, tablets with new GPUs

The company will upgrade its Mali graphics products to support 4K video

ARM, whose processors are used in most mobile devices today, is supercharging its latest Mali graphics technology to bring 4K graphics to tablets and smartphones, while also extending device battery life.

It's becoming important for mobile devices to have good graphics cores to deal with higher-resolution screens, cameras and external 4K display connectors. With Mali graphics, games will also look better on low-cost and high-end tablets and smartphones.

But graphics are also notorious for draining battery life, and Mali processors draw less power than their predecessors. The top-end Mali T860 can render 4K video and beyond, and the Mali V550 video accelerator can encode and decode 4K video based on the H.265 format, which is supported by the International Telecommunications Union.

With 4K, video is displayed at a 3840 x 2160 resolution, which is four times that of 1080p high-definition. High-end mobile devices don't have 4K screens yet, but can be attached to 4K TVs and monitors to play movies that are either streaming or stored on devices. Netflix has started streaming 4K video, and the content available at that resolution is expanding.

ARM doesn't make physical chips, but licenses CPU and graphics processor designs. ARM's graphics processors are used by Samsung, Lenovo and also low-cost device makers. ARM competes with mobile graphics companies Nvidia, Qualcomm and Imagination Technologies, which all support 4K graphics.

The Mali T860 is 45 percent more power efficient than the Mali T628, which is being used in many new mobile devices. The new GPU has 16 shader cores, a key rendering mechanism for more life-like images in games. The GPU is designed for high-end smartphones and tablets that will ship in 12 to 18 months.

The Mali T830 and T820 are designed for mainstream smartphones and tablets priced from around US$50 to $400. It is 55 percent faster than the Mali T622, which is used in many similar smartphones and tablets today. The design is also smaller, so the GPU could be used in compact phones.

ARM Mali V550 4K video accelerator can be used in conjunction with GPUs. The accelerator has eight processing cores that can decode 4K video beyond 30 frames per second.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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