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Nvidia chief envisions a year of 3D glasses and tablets

Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang envisions a big year for tablet computers and 3D glasses, with the benefits rolling in for the graphics chip maker along multiple product lines this year.

Speaking at the company’s analyst meeting, Huang said he was excited about the growing wave of consumer excitement around the trends that favor visual computing, which is the core application of the company’s graphics chips. He said he admired Apple’s iPad tablet for establishing a new category in computing that consumers are ready to embrace.

“I am really delighted to see the success of Apple,” he said. “And now we can take it from there forward and innovate all around that. We have seen the first of the tablets. But we haven’t seen the best of it yet.”

He said the tablets are likely to be the best way to consume a lot of content, including books, magazines, the web, games, music, and movies.

He said that the core computing market will give way somewhat to accommodate all of the new devices, meaning revenues for those devices will eat somewhat into core computer revenues. But he said that the new devices won’t replace laptops and desktops, which will be used for data entry, information access and content creation.

Huang is in a better position now than he was last year because his company finally launched Fermi, the code-named next-graphics chip, which was four years in the making and was delayed so long it has come out about six months behind rival chips from Advanced Micro Devices.

The Fermi chip was delayed due to design complexity (the chip has 3 billion transistors) as well as problems that contract manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. had in developing its 40-nanometer manufacturing process, which is used to make the Fermi chips. Huang said he was optimistic about how Fermi would do this year now that it has launched.

“What’s different now is Fermi is in production,” he said. “Two years ago, I was just fantasizing about it.”

Huang said the Fermi chips (dubbed GeForce GTX 480)  got less than stellar reviews upon launch because the company didn’t give reviewers enough time to review them. Overall, Huang said he expects it to be a good year for all four of Nvidia’s businesses: the Quadro and Tesla chips used in the creation of visual content, and the GeForce and Tegra chips used in the consumption of it.

Tegra is focused on the mobile device market, including tablets. Huang said the mobile Tegra chips are being adopted in four markets: computers, consumer electronics, communications devices and cars. Nvidia has had success with Tegra and is launching its Tegra 2 this year as well. While there are some big design wins, such as Microsoft’s Zune HD device, many of the products have yet to hit the market.

Nvidia is also trying to pioneer the market in 3D viewing of movies and games on computer monitors and TVs with 3D glasses. The company is involved in an end-to-end solution, with products ranging from the professional graphics workstation market (where 3D content for movies such as Avatar is created)  to the 3D Vision glasses Nvidia itself sells for viewing the content on 3D computer displays and TVs. This year, the technology is finally taking off, Huang said. As proof, he said that every major computer plans to launch 3D glasses-based products this year.


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