NVIDIA Tegra: The Future of Android Gaming

Android has, traditionally, been seen as a niche platform with limited apps, but in recent times, due to its open-source philosophy, it has become the most popular smartphone OS on the market. Android’s Market boasts over 290,000 applications, which, though less than Apple’s 500,000 or so, shows that Android is rapidly catching up. According to German research company research2guidance, Android will overtake Apple sometime in the next few months in having the most apps available.

The same applies to gaming. Android games used to be quite basic and limited; however, most developers now release both Android and iOS versions of their games, and the surge in popularity of games such as Angry Birds (especially on Android, owing to the fact that it is free) shows that the Android platform can satisfy an avid gamer’s needs.

Manufacturers of Android-based devices have recently been flexing their muscles and packing a bigger punch into their range of tablets and smartphones by using NVIDIA’s range of Tegra processors, designed to really emphasize the performance of the device. With this range of processors, they hope to push Android up in the gaming world to become a solid platform for mobile gaming. Read on to find out more.

What is Tegra?

NVIDIA Tegra was the first mobile super chip released onto the market, and promised faster mobile browsing, better Flash through hardware acceleration and, most importantly to gamers, console-quality gaming.

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NVIDIA's Tegra range of processors allow for better performance with regards to gaming, surfing the Net and general overall performance.

Developers are now releasing games which are specifically designed to draw on the Tegra’s increased processing power. NVIDIA have released a free app, Tegra Zone, which categorizes all current and upcoming games designed to run on a device featuring a Tegra processor.

The number of these games currently stands at around 15, but there are several in development, such as a version of the train simulator Trainz and a futuristic racing game similar to Wipeout, T-Racer HD.

NVIDIA Tegra Zone

Tegra Zone running on my Motorola Xoom

Devices

The first device to show off NVIDIA’s new processor was the Zune HD, released back in September 2009 in the United States. Since then, many new and upcoming Android devices are switching over to the Tegra processor such as the latest Android tablets, such as Motorola’s XOOM and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and some high-end smartphones, such as Motorola’s Atrix.

It is certainly an active project and one that will not be abandoned anytime soon and with the promise of both more devices and more Tegra-optimized apps, it’s looking good for NVIDIA and the community of Android gamers.

Performance

So, what does this mean for Android gaming? Tegra chips are designed to give console-quality gaming by utilizing NVIDIA’s popular GeForce GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), and without compromising on battery life. The chips also enhance 3D graphics, allowing developers to be more creative and intuitive with their games.

Riptide GP

Riptide GP, a game designed to show the advanced processing power of Tegra

On my Motorola Xoom, one of the first major devices to sport the Tegra 2 processor, the games which are designed for Tegra run extremely well without any stuttering and the graphics are next to perfect. Unfortunately, there is only a limited number of games at the moment — but all of them have been rated highly and won’t bore you too quickly whilst you’re waiting for the new ones!

Competition

It seems like the two giants of the smartphone market, Apple and Android, are again locking horns when it comes to sizing up their devices’ graphical capability and what this means for games on their platforms. Tegra is comparable at the moment to Apple’s A5 chip, currently featured in the iPad 2 – both are dual-core and both are clocked at 1 GHz.

Performance-wise, the A5 does beat Tegra in benchmark tests, though seeing as Tegra features in a wide range of devices, these performance tests do depend very much upon the actual device itself, as specifications between Android devices tend to vary greatly.

I have done side-by-side tests with my Motorola Xoom and an iPad 2 and, on common applications, the iPad 2 does tend to not display any of the choppiness that the Xoom tends to exhibit. The iPad 2, however, does have a very limited number of games which are specifically optimized for it, while the Tegra-arm does (at least at the moment) seem to be more active.

The Future

The future looks bright for Android gaming and the Tegra series. Recently, NVIDIA demonstrated the new Tegra processor, codenamed Kal-El (NVIDIA seem to like naming their chips after superheros), which is touted as the world’s first quad-core mobile chip and appears to render Apple’s A5 chip a distant relic of the past. NVIDIA demonstrated a game called Glowball, which exhibited buttery-smooth graphics and really showed what this processor is capable of.

It seems that this new range of processors and enhanced graphical capability may well render traditional gaming devices such as Sony’s PSP or Nintendo’s 3DS useless in a few years time. Nobody really wants to carry around two devices, and with mobile games priced extremely favorably against games for platforms such as the PSP and Nintendo 3DS, market penetration is likely to be much higher.

In Europe, the mobile gaming market is 57 million strong and is growing at a rate of around 51% each year. A fifth of these users play mobile games at least once every day. According to Flurry Analytics, the share of iOS and Android gaming as a share of revenue in the U.S. grew from 19% in 2009 to 34% in 2010. In the same period, the DS and PSP’s share decreased from 70% to 57% and 11% to 9%, respectively.

These figures speak for themselves and show that both Android and iOS are increasing in popularity as a gaming platform and boasting their capabilities. With NVIDIA hoping to release its first quad-core processor sometime towards the end of this year and developers jumping on the opportunity to develop games for Tegra-based devices, there’s a sunny outlook for hardcore Android gamers.


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