Allwinner bringing 4K video to smartphones and tablets

Allwinner will ship its A80 board, which has eight ARM CPUs and 64 PowerVR graphics cores

Allwinner, one of the biggest providers of chips for low-cost smartphones and tablets, is stepping up its efforts to bring 4K video to handheld devices.

The Chinese chip maker will ship a development board in May that includes its new UltraOcta A80 processor, a powerful chip designed to enable playback of 4K video on portable devices without putting too much strain on battery life.

The A80 chip recently began sampling to smartphone and tablet makers, and the board is significant because it will allow developers to start testing applications that can take advantage of its capabilities.

Video with 4K resolution, also called Ultra HD, provides four times the resolution of today's best HD standard. 4K TVs, monitors and cameras are already available, but mobile devices today struggle to handle video of that quality.

The A80 is designed to handle 4K video at 30 frames per second while minimizing the work that the CPUs and GPUs have to perform, which helps conserve battery life.

The chip includes a dedicated video engine block along with eight ARM CPUs and a 64-core PowerVR G6230 graphics processor. The ARM cores are in a "big.Little" configuration, which means there are a mix of powerful Cortex-A15 cores and less powerful A7 cores.

Big.Little aims to further improve battery life by allowing less compute-intensive tasks, like sending an email, to run on the less powerful cores, which consume less electricity.

The A80 chip should find its way into mobile devices by the end of the second quarter, Allwinner says.

As well as video playback on the device itself, the A80 can send 4K video to TVs and monitors via HDMI and eDP ports.

Allwinner competes with Rockchip, another Chinese manufacturer that cranks out chips for low-cost tablets and phones.

Other chip makers, including Nvidia, Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics, have also announced ARM-based chips that can play 4K video.

Nvidia's current Tegra 4, which is in a handful of tablets and smartphones, can render 4K video but does not have hardware-based acceleration for the H.265 or VP9 codecs. Instead, the chip relies on the brute force of GPUs, which uses up more power.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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