A 310-foot “crop circle” in a California barley field that mystified locals this week was explained Sunday: it was a publicity stunt by Nvidia Corp., a maker of chips for PCs and smartphones.
The crop circle near Chualar, Calif., contained a stylized image of a computer chip and the number “192” in Braille. On Sunday, the company announced the Tegra K1, a new chip for tablets and smartphones that contains 192 computing “cores,” or mini-computers, for graphics applications.
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said at a press conference in Las Vegas, ahead of the International Consumer Electronics Show, that he had given his marketing department the mission to promote the chip on a shoe-string budget. The crop circle received wide attention. Rumors of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia’s involvement appeared Sunday before the press conference.
The circle was plowed under a few days after its discovery.
Other news filtering out of CES today:
— Japanese electronics maker Sharp is bridging the gap between expensive 4K TVs and HD versions with an in-between solution that’s also priced in the middle. According to Sharp, new technology gives its Quattron+ televisions 16 million subpixels, versus 8 million for its Quattron line and 6 million for HD. It’s a middle ground before stepping up to a 4K TV, also known as “ultra HD,” which has 24 million subpixels. A 70-inch model is expected to retail for about $3,200.
— AT&T Inc. announced Monday that it’s setting up a “1-800” service for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll-free for AT&T’s wireless customers, meaning the traffic won’t count against a surfer’s monthly allotment of data. It’s the first major cellphone company to create a comprehensive service for sponsored wireless access in the U.S.
— Upstart entrepreneurs and major manufacturers such as Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony are moving forward with wearable tech: gadgets that you snap, buckle or fasten to your body. Several companies are expected to unveil wearable devices that are easier to use, extend battery life, and tap into the power of gestures, social networks and cloud computing.
— GM says it will start outfitting most Chevrolet vehicles with 4G cellular capabilities in partnership with AT&T. The technology will let drivers make phone calls and allow passengers to surf the Web without burning through the voice and data limits on their phone plans. Pricing plans have yet to be announced.
Nvidia’s stunt comes as tablets are becoming a popular platform for gaming, undermining Nvidia’s core business of creating powerful chips that enhance the look of PC games. It’s had some success with its chips for mobile gadgets like smartphones and tablets, but has been overshadowed by Qualcomm Inc.
In the new Tegra K1, the graphics component based on its “Kepler” design, used in high-end PCs. The chip would makes for a tablet more powerful than an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game console, while consuming one-twentieth the power.
“We’ve bridged the gap — we’ve brought mobile computing to the same level as desktop computing,” Huang said.
The 192 cores in the new chip compare to Nvidia’s previous flagship, the Tegra 4, with 72 graphics cores.
Huang demonstrated near photo-realistic simulations of environments and human faces, run on the new chip. He said Epic Games will adapt the next version of its Unreal Engine, the basis for many popular games, so that it will work on the chip. He didn’t announce when the chip would be available or any gadget makers that were adopting it.