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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK
Mobile graphics look to impress
By Phil Elliott
BBC Radio Five Live

The quality of images and video on your mobile phone is set to get a lot better.

In the past year, graphics card giants ATI and Nvidia have been working on new handset chips, the Imageon and GoForce respectively.

Stuntcar game
Stuntcar Extreme game shows potential of Nvidia chip
At the moment the graphical capabilities of mobile phones is relatively poor compared to desktop PCs.

This is down to a number of factors. Principally, it is a question of space and the amount of functionality that can be crammed into handset-sized hardware.

But new ways to bypass this problem have been found with the design of new chips which increase efficiency to such a degree that current resolutions can be doubled.

Whilst ATI's Imageon 2300 has had 3D graphics capability since January, Nvidia recently demonstrated technology that can run full 3D graphics and streaming video at three megapixels.

Handset scale

The GoForce 3D 4500 chip represents an improvement in clarity on the smaller screen, which can now show movie clips with subtitles that are legible, increasing resolutions from 1.3 megapixels to three megapixels.

Tapwave Zodiac handheld gaming device
The Zodiac gaming handheld uses ATI technology
The 3D graphics themselves have been upgraded to produce a smooth, fluid and complex set of visuals.

"When we looked at building a 3D product for the handset market, we looked at the system," said Manish Singh, director for marketing of handheld products at Nvidia.

"Instead of taking a traditional PC architecture and finding ways to shoehorn it into a handheld we looked at the resources available on the system," he told BBC Radio Five Live's Up All Night.

"We went back and partitioned the 3D pipe in a way that made sense."

"All of these features are focused at reducing the amount of data that is moved around the system and optimising the amount of work that the pipeline has to do," said Mr Singh. "You don't have to run this thing at 300Mhz to get great performance."

Waiting times

This new technology has found its way into phones already and ATI's second generation of Imageon chips should be available by the middle of next year.

Motorola mobile phone
Motorola chose the ATI Imageon chip for some of its handsets
However the highest resolutions recently demonstrated will not be available for some time. Conservative estimates suggest by 2006 at the earliest.

Exactly how and when the new chips are released will depend upon the carriers themselves.

If the various mobile phone networks are not convinced there is a market, they simply will not invest in it.

Learning lessons from the painfully slow take up of 3G products might make the networks cautious.

But once people see the potential of these massively improved visuals it seems unlikely they will let it pass by.

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