Wearable graphics could get a boost with Imagination's Series7 GPUs

Imagination claims its Series7 GPUs will boost object recognition and augmented reality

Imagination Technologies PowerVR Series7 rendering (2)

Imagination Technologies PowerVR Series7 rendering (2)

Graphics is not yet a major consideration in wearables, but Imagination hopes to change that as part of a plan to put its new PowerVR graphics technology in a wide range of computing devices.

Imagination's PowerVR Series7XE and Series7XT graphics processors are targeted at wearables, mobile devices, gaming consoles, PCs and servers. The new line of Series7 GPUs were announced on Monday.

Graphics tend to drain battery life on wearables. But the power-efficient Series7XE GPUs could be used for image recognition and object detection in smartglasses and headsets, said Kristof Beets, director of business development at Imagination.

PowerVR graphics technologies have been used in mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, and Imagination's focus will remain primarily on these types of devices. Wearables represents a growth opportunity as graphics gains importance and devices provide a more visual experience, Beets said.

Beets didn't seem enthusiastic about putting Series7 in low-end wearables like fitness bands or smartwatches, which have fewer graphics requirements, and for which older Imagination graphics technology would suffice. Many cutting-edge graphics technologies in Series7 are more relevant for more sophisticated wearables tied to visual input, augmented reality and object recognition.

Many wearables currently use chips and graphics technologies adapted from smartphones. But the power and processing requirements on wearables are different, and the CPU clock speed would need to be reduced to balance battery life and graphics, Beets said.

There is a "very different [system-on-chip] design choice" for wearable devices compared to smartphones, Beets said.

Outside of high-end wearables, the Series7XE GPUs can also be used in low-end phones, tablets, set-top boxes and TVs.

Imagination's more powerful Series7XT GPUs are for mobile devices, game consoles and high-end TVs and set-top boxes. The company is also pushing the XT GPUs into PCs and servers, which are new growth markets the company doesn't want to ignore, Beets said.

The XT provides more graphics processing power than its predecessors while using lesser or the same amount of power. The Series7XT succeeds the previous Series6 chips, and is 35 percent to 61 percent faster, according to Imagination's calculations. It has faster throughput and more features that will result in better graphics.

The XT GPUs are capable of rendering 4K video and beyond, and have been tweaked to work better with the Windows and Android operating systems. Games in Android will look better and help device makers install higher-resolution screens and more advanced cameras.

Imagination also sees an opportunity to put Series7XT in laptops like Chromebooks, which are growing in popularity. With its entry into PCs, it will challenge Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia, which dominate the market.

Imagination, like ARM, designs processors and licenses it to chip makers. Nvidia also has started licensing its GPU architecture to third-parties, but hasn't found much success. Nvidia is licensing high-end GPUs, while Imagination's GPU designs are available at various power and performance levels, Beets said.

Imagination's GPU designs work with different CPU technologies, including x86, ARM and MIPS.

The company is also pushing the Series7XT for use in game consoles and servers, where it could be possibly used to process and deliver streaming video over the cloud. The GPUs also have virtualization layers to secure data and user credentials.

The Series7 processors could be in devices next year.

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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