IT'S IMPOSSBLE TO DENY THAT Microsoft's range of Zune portable media players (PMP) have lived in a perpetual shadow cast by the ever-present Ipod and its manifold siblings, but an announcement from Nvidia could shine a light for fans of Microsoft's also-ran pocketable music and video jukeboxes.
Graphics chip giant Nvidia has announced that the next iteration of the Vole's player, the Zune HD, will be armed with a dual-core Tegra processor.
Based on blueprints from Brit chip shop ARM, one of the two processor cores will take care of the operating system, and graphics duties will be taken over by an Nvidia Geforce GPU.
And ARM has applied its usual skill at squeezing a hell of a lot of processing punch out of a tiny amount of electrickery, with the whole Tegra chipset drawing less than half a Watt of power, not least because clever software will shut down parts of the chips not being used. So, if you're listening to music, the graphics side of the hardware will sit idle until needed.
In fact, the APX2600 SoC has seperate blocks for HD encode and decode, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, still imaging and audio, all of which can be independantly switched in or out, depending on the requirements of the ARM system core. Unfortunatley, processor draw is only part of the story, and unless Microsoft can ensure that the device's OLED screen doesn't suck the life out of the battery, then all will be for naught.
The forthcoming Zune won't be the only device to have Tegra under the covers. Nvidia reckons there are around 50 devices currently in R&D that might use its CPU chip, including smartphones and tablet devices.
But the Zune HD's fortunes will depend on its available applications, and in this market the killer apps that will surely make or break the hardware will almost certainly be games.
So lets see if Microsoft, ARM and Nvidia can take on Sony's PSP and Apple's Ipod Touch all in one fell swoop. Stranger things have happened. µ