Comment Intel and Qualcomm are increasingly extending their reach beyond their core chip technologies and into surrounding technologies and even applications. Both seek to enhance their revenues and account control with end-to-end offerings in key emerging areas of technology such as virtual reality.
Last week, Intel acquired Replay Technologies, a 3D video startup, to boost its growing activities in this area and move up the stack into the applications layer. Also last week, Qualcomm has unveiled a software developers’ kit (SDK) for virtual reality for its ever-expanding Snapdragon platform.
Intel’s latest acquisition is an Israeli firm which specialises in 3D video for sporting events. Founded in 2011, it has a proprietary video format, called freeD, which uses high-resolution cameras and compute intensive graphics to allow viewers to see matches from every angle. For instance, in the recent NBA All-Star Weekend, freeD was used, based on 28 UHD cameras around the basketball arena, connected to Intel servers.
This merited a statement from Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, even before the takeover was announced. He said: “By offering sweeping views of top plays from virtually any angle, the freeD format, optimised with Intel technology, is allowing people to experience NBA All-Star like never before.
Wendell Brooks, Intel’s SVP of mergers and acquisitions, wrote in a blog post that the next step would be to work with Replay Technologies to develop new features “like the ability to manipulate and edit personalized content”. The two companies have been working together for more than two years to optimise Relay’s interactive video content on the Intel platform.
Intel’s broader strategy in VR
Such technologies showcase the capabilities of Intel’s processors, but are also a way to achieve new revenue streams. “Right now, especially when you are looking at slow growth rates for semiconductors, everyone is looking for ways to expand their total available market,” Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told EE Times.
And he believes this takes Intel closer to the applications level than usual – rather than stopping at devices such as webcams - making him “wonder if this is a broader step by Intel to move beyond chips … This could be interesting if they are looking to license and application level technology.”
This is also likely to be part of the broader strategic move by Intel to try to shape the next generation of user experiences, harnessing technologies like 3D and virtual reality. Its RealSense 3D technology is central to this, and has already appeared in drones, robots, virtual reality helmets and other designs, all aiming to make the computer more human-like.
In a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the RealSense 3D camera, combined with video streaming and augmented reality software, enabled robots to navigate around obstacles. It combines an image processor with a tiny 3D camera/scanner, to support immersive user experiences, advanced authentication, and new applications.
Like the human brain, says Intel, RealSense perceives the world by projecting images from two eyes onto a 3D stereoscopic map. Last year, the company took the important step of squeezing the technology into a smartphone module, opening the way for a far wider range of applications.
Qualcomm unveils Snapdragon SDK for VR
Qualcomm is also pushing into VR and robotics in a major way, and its latest development is the SDK for the the Snapdragon 820 processor. Among the features of the kit is digital signal processor (DSP) sensor fusion, which brings together data from sensors, such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, in the right balance to optimize the VR immersive experence.
Other capabilities include rapid transformation of rendered images in 3D spaces, to cut latency in half; stereoscopic rendering for improved graphics and video; and the ability to produce clear overlays of menus or text.
Dave Durnil, senior director of engineering, said: "We're providing advanced tools and technologies to help developers significantly improve the virtual reality experience for applications like games, 360-degree VR videos and a variety of interactive education and entertainment applications. VR represents a new paradigm for how we interact with the world, and we're excited to help mobile VR developers more efficiently deliver compelling and high quality experiences on upcoming Snapdragon 820 VR-capable Android smartphones and headsets."
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