New Mali Graphics processors from ARM Bring 4K Graphics to Smartphones and Tablets

by on October 29, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – October 29th, 2014

4K graphics for smartphones and tablets are a definite thing. Never mind that 4K levels of pixel density in such tiny screens are pretty much indistinguishable from Full HD display, the bottom line is that if it’s possible and relatively easy to do, tech companies are likely to build it.

Customers themselves will prefer 4K display for their high end phones as soon as the first major maker arrives with a phone or tablet that has it.

Fortunately for those that want to see these innovations come about, the technology that will enable 4K in mobile device screens has now been developed a bit further.

Chip maker ARM, whose processors are a key ingredient in most of today’s mobile devices is going to be massively upping the power of its Mali line of graphics chips so that they are capable of handling actual 4K graphics in the smart phones and tablets they’re installed in. Even more impressively, the new chips will at the same time allow for extended battery life.

Currently, high powered chips from makers such as Qualcomm and ARM are in place in some of the latest flagship phones on the market; models such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Sony Xperia Z3 and the LG G3.  But even these processors are mainly designed to be able to handle the processing of 4K video shot with these phones’ powerful cameras. Actual 4K display is still not available on any mobile device.

Now that the Mali graphics cards from ARM are on the way, the expansion of higher resolution screens, going all the way up to 4k quality is getting closer to hitting the market. The purpose of the new Mali cores is to deliver a graphics core good enough to make UHD resolution look good and run smoothly on mobile device screens. They are also supposed to make mobile games look better on both low-cost and top-shelf tablets or smartphones.

The other innovative aspect of the Mali chips is that they manage to draw significantly less power than predecessor chips. Given how much battery power high-end graphics can drain, this is a crucial development. For example, the Mali T860 chip is supposed to process 4K video and even higher resolutions and the Mali V550 chip is capable of encoding and decoding 4K content based on the HEVC compression format, and both can do this while keeping battery use to reasonable levels.

ARM itself doesn’t actually make physical CPUs and GPUs, it just develops their designs and then licenses them to other manufacturers.

Major current users of ARM designed processors are Samsung, Lenovo and a number of cheaper device makers and ARM is finding itself in competition with Nvidia, Qualcomm and Imagination Technologies in delivering ultra-high efficiency processing technology to these electronics manufacturers.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 4K processors

Qualcomm is a major competitor of ARM with its SnapDragon line of chips

The latest and most innovative Mali chip development is the T860, which is almost 50% more efficient than its predecessor the T628, currently in use in a number of different mobile devices. The new T860 comes with 16 shader cores that are designed to deeply enhance the realism of images in games and the GPU is planned for smart phone models which are supposed to go on sale within a year.

Other new Mali chips include the T830 and T820 GPU models, both of which are built for both smartphones and tablets in an assortment of price ranges.

ARM also has a 4K video accelerator that it’s releasing. Called the V550, this 8 processing core unit is used in conjunction with the company’s GPUs to further increase 4K video rendering ability in mobile devices to beyond 30 frames per second.

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