ARM Unveils Chip Cores for Immersive Applications Like VR, AR

The chip designer is rolling out the Mali-V61 VPU and Mali-G51 GPU to address the demand from Generation Z members for more interactive devices.

VR

ARM is rolling out two chip cores that address the demand for greater immersive and interactive visual capabilities—including virtual and augmented reality—in their mobile devices.

The company, which designs low-power chip architectures and then licenses those designs to such chip makers as Qualcomm and Samsung, on Oct. 31 unveiled the Mali-V61 video processing unit (VPU) and Mali-G51 GPU, which officials said will bring a greater visual experience to mobile devices, something that members of Generation Z are demanding.

"The cost and visual experience a device delivers are key purchasing factors for Generation Z and mainstream mobile users," James McNiven, general manager for CPU and media processing groups at ARM, said in a statement. "Our latest Mali video and graphics IP suite meets this demand by offering immersive VR [virtual reality], gaming and compliance with real-time video standards."

Both VR and augmented reality (AR) are focuses of device and component makers, with a lot of the headsets being tied to smartphones and other mobile systems. A report issued earlier this year by market research firm Strategy Analytics found that the worldwide VR headset market will hit about $895 million this year. However, while the bulk of those revenues—77 percent—will come from such high-end systems from Oculus, HTC and Sony, those will only account for 13 percent of the 12.8 million VR headsets expected to be sold in 2016. The rest will come from lower-priced headsets from multiple vendors.

At the Computex 2016 show earlier this year, ARM officials unveiled new CPU and GPU cores that they said delivered the performance and efficiency needed for new workloads like VR, AR, mobile gaming and machine learning. They also said that smartphones were becoming the portal through which such emerging technologies will run, putting greater pressure on the systems-on-the-chip (SoCs) powering these devices.

"It's very much about enabling these user experiences on the smartphone," James Bruce, director of ARM's Mobile Segment, told eWEEK at the time. "The focus of both the [new ARM] CPU and GPU is to really deliver that user experience while delivering these efficiencies."

ARM's Mali-G51 GPU is based on the company's new Bitfrost architecture and is designed for mainstream smartphones that will include low-power VR capabilities like virtual spaces, everyday gaming, AR and fast browsing, according to ARM officials. The Bitfrost architecture has been enhanced to include a redesigned texturing unit that delivers twice the throughput of the previous design, enabling premium graphics on mainstream devices.

It's also the smallest and most efficient Vulkan-enabled GPU, with the ability to support up to 4K screen resolution. It provides up to 60 percent more performance per square millimeter, is up to 60 percent more energy-efficient and 30 percent smaller than its predecessor, the Mali-T830, officials said. Given the size differential, chip makers will be able to reduce the manufacturing costs for chips that offer more performance and efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Mali-V61 provides 4K streaming for such real-time video applications as Facebook Live and Periscope, ARM officials said. The new VPU comes with a 50 percent bit-rate saving over previous generations of codec, and can scale from 1080p60 on a single core to up to 4K120 on multiple cores, delivering high-definition streaming on any mobile device. ARM engineers also included VP9 encode in the Mali-V61, which is important given that most Android and Google apps will soon be requiring the capability, they said.

Both chips were made to work well together as part of ARM's larger Mali Multimedia Suite and Cortex-A processor. The suite includes graphics, video and display processors, and is designed to help chip makers bring their products to market more quickly. The Mali-G51 and Mali-V61, both of which come with ARM's TrustZone security technology, are now available for licensing.