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article imageNew ARM GPU to bring VR to low-end phones by 2018

By James Walker     Oct 31, 2016 in Technology
ARM has launched a new GPU design that's built to bring virtual reality to low-end smartphones. The Mali-G51 uses ARM's Bifrost architecture to create an affordable chip that's optimised for virtual reality and augmented reality content.
Virtual reality is only accessible to owners of high-end smartphones using today's technology. The powerful hardware required to support VR headsets has so far prevented entry costs falling much below $500. ARM hopes to change that with the Mali-G51, a chip aimed specifically at bringing virtual reality to budget, widely available smartphones by 2018. ARM is targeting the $200 price range, one of the most crowded areas of the market that receives a lot of attention from consumers.
The Mali-G51 is significantly more efficient than previous ARM GPUs. According to the company, it's up to 1.6x more efficient than the Mali-T830, enabling more power to be derived from a smaller, less energy-intensive chip. This in turn reduces heat production, enabling the GPU to run faster for longer. The result is a GPU capable of powering virtual reality content inside budget phones, all without draining the device's battery as soon as an app's started up.
The innovation has been made possible by ARM's Bifrost architecture. Bifrost uses a low level instruction set to give control to the compiler when handling power-sensitive graphics workloads. While the technology is complex, the overall effect is a more efficient platform that's scalable across a wide range of hardware, from low-end phones to more premium devices.
ARM Mali-G51
ARM Mali-G51
Attention has also been given to more traditional environments. The inclusion of ARM Frame Buffer Compression (AFBC) 1.2 technology improves performance in certain high-bandwidth scenarios. It compresses areas of constant colour, saving memory when rendering in 2D. This will improve performance when navigating around regular apps and 2D graphics applications.
ARM is concentrating on the "virtual spaces" element of virtual reality with the new chip. Instead of providing a fully immersive experience, the Mali-G51 will allow you to enter virtual worlds within a finite bounded space. The surroundings will be kept static to reduce GPU workload. You'll be able to interact with elements within the space.
The company said that virtual spaces are the "obvious business application" for VR, letting you set up a virtual boardroom, conference suite or collaboration area. They also have social applications, such as hosting a remote conversation with a friend in a "room" in which you can see each other.
ARM said the Mali-G51 will begin to appear in next-generation mobile devices in 2018. Because of the way in which ARM designs its products, there's a considerable gap between when a new chip is launched and it being integrated into phones. The company produces designs for processors that third-party manufacturers such as Qualcomm and MediaTek then build.
The Mali-G51 has already been licensed to multiple manufacturers. When it lands on the market, it's likely to be found in a range of devices from some of the biggest companies in the industry. ARM processors are currently used by the vast majority of smartphones so it shouldn't be hard to purchase a VR-ready handset.
More about Arm, Processors, Gpu, Virtual reality, Vr
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