Mobile graphics look to impress

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The quality of images and video on your mobile phone is set to get a lot better.

In the past year, graphics card giants ATI and Nvidia have been working on new handset chips, the Imageon and GoForce respectively.

At the moment the graphical capabilities of mobile phones is relatively poor compared to desktop PCs.

This is down to a number of factors. Principally, it is a question of space and the amount of functionality that can be crammed into handset-sized hardware.

But new ways to bypass this problem have been found with the design of new chips which increase efficiency to such a degree that current resolutions can be doubled.

Whilst ATI’s Imageon 2300 has had 3D graphics capability since January, Nvidia recently demonstrated technology that can run full 3D graphics and streaming video at three megapixels.

The GoForce 3D 4500 chip represents an improvement in clarity on the smaller screen, which can now show movie clips with subtitles that are legible, increasing resolutions from 1.3 megapixels to three megapixels.

The 3D graphics themselves have been upgraded to produce a smooth, fluid and complex set of visuals.

“When we looked at building a 3D product for the handset market, we looked at the system,” said Manish Singh, director for marketing of handheld products at Nvidia.

“Instead of taking a traditional PC architecture and finding ways to shoehorn it into a handheld we looked at the resources available on the system,” he told BBC Radio Five Live’s Up All Night.

“We went back and partitioned the 3D pipe in a way that made sense.”

“All of these features are focused at reducing the amount of data that is moved around the system and optimising the amount of work that the pipeline has to do,” said Mr Singh. “You don’t have to run this thing at 300Mhz to get great performance.”

This new technology has found its way into phones already and ATI’s second generation of Imageon chips should be available by the middle of next year.

However the highest resolutions recently demonstrated will not be available for some time. Conservative estimates suggest by 2006 at the earliest.

Exactly how and when the new chips are released will depend upon the carriers themselves.

If the various mobile phone networks are not convinced there is a market, they simply will not invest in it.

Learning lessons from the painfully slow take up of 3G products might make the networks cautious.

But once people see the potential of these massively improved visuals it seems unlikely they will let it pass by.

Nokia sees rise in handset sales

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Mobile phone maker Nokia says its third-quarter results will be better than previously forecast, thanks to higher-than-expected handset sales.

The Finnish giant now predicts its quarterly sales will be as high as 6.9bn euros ($8.4bn; £4.7bn), compared to its past estimate of up to 6.8bn euros.

The news is a welcome boost for the firm, which has lost ground to rivals in the past year.

Higher sales can be attributed to the release of several new phone models.

In July, Nokia reported that its market share had fallen 8% over the past year.

The company admitted that it did not have enough models offering cameras, colour screens or in the fold-away design.

Nokia has since rush released a series of new models, which appear to be proving immediately popular, and it has also reduced some prices.

“The longer term issues have not been totally resolved yet, but in the shorter term it shows that the (Nokia’s) market share is gradually going up again,” said telecom expert Mika Paloranta of investment bank Carnegie.

Nokia’s share price shot up more than 7% on the upgraded quarterly forecast.

 

PlusNet throws lifeline to UK ISPs

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A lifeline is being thrown today to more than 70 UK ISPs faced with spiralling operating costs, many of whom now face financial ruin.

BT’s increases in the cost of business broadband have left many service providers with few options, faced as they are, with additional expenditure of up to 30%. The UK Internet Federation (UKIF), a newly created trade body representing the interests of affected ISPs, has recently stated that the increase has “put them in a position where they will be unable to compete and will be faced with terminating their business”. Despite a last-ditch appeal to Ofcom last week, the price increase has been confirmed.

PlusNet firmly believes that for the UK broadband sector to be successful, breadth of customer choice and industry innovation is important. Today’s proposal aims to promote effective and sustainable competition, providing the means for small and medium sized ISPs to participate fairly in a market dominated by the few large providers.

“Many smaller operators providing niche services, both locally and nationally to the residential and business market, have been hit particularly hard by this news,” stated Marco Potesta, Marketing Director at PlusNet. “With a last ditch attempt to persuade Ofcom to rule against the price increase failing, UKIF members have few options left available to them.”

However all is not lost. PlusNet is hoping to meet with UKIF representatives and/or members to discuss a potential way forward that could turn a potential negative into a positive for all concerned. The affected ISPs are buying relatively small amounts of capacity from a number of BT distribution arms; this could be consolidated into buying through PlusNet.

“Having looked at the situation, we believe that smaller ISPs can leverage our existing DSL platform and get back to the cost structures in place prior to the recent price rises. We also believe this can be done in such a way that not only is customer ownership and product development retained by the relevant individual ISPs, but improvements in quality of service can also be gained,” continued Potesta.

To establish the feasibility of this proposal, moving forward PlusNet proposes to hold a forum in the coming weeks to encompass all affected UK ISPs to plan the way forward.

“We are making this public release to alert UKIF representatives of our proposal. PlusNet is committed to facilitating the way forward but we must emphasise that action needs to be taken quickly to ensure a successful outcome,” said Potesta.

PlusNet has set up a contact email address ukif@plus.net for those wishing to participate in establishing the forum.

 

 

 

Checkout the latest deals on PlusNet broadband here.

Games giant muscles in on mobiles

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Games giant Electronic Arts is making a serious move into mobile gaming.

It is joining forces with the Scottish mobile entertainment firm Digital Bridges to make more of its games available for mobile phones.

Among the big titles from EA coming to mobiles is a version of the best-selling The Sims game.

Mobile gaming is expected to explode in the coming years, with analysts predicting that 220 million will be playing games on mobile phones by 2009.

“Looking ahead, there will be much excitement about the opportunities offered by taking gaming outside,” said Gerhard Florin, Senior Vice President of Electronic Arts.

“Consumers around the world are increasingly moving to interactive entertainment,” he told delegates at the European Games Network exhibition in London.

Through its new partnership, EA hopes to tap into the expertise of Digital Bridges in developing and distributing games to mobiles.

The games giant already produces versions of its big games for the handheld devices like the GameBoy Advance.

And it also has plans to create versions for upcoming devices like Sony’s PS and Nintendo’s DS.

A factor in EA’s decision to push into downloadable games is the huge amount that people spend on ringtones.

“We thought long and hard about this,” Mr Florin told BBC News Online.

“The mobile market is still very small and it is still very early, but we believe it is the right moment.”

“We believe that the mobile platform is a key part of our gaming world and that is why we are increasing our investment in mobile gaming.”

EA also sees the phone as a way of reaching people, particularly women, who would not normally play video games.

“We can link consumers closer to our franchises and find new consumers via the mobile market and then get them to our console world,” said Mr Florin.

“While we create and produce games for the mobile platform, the expertise of Digital Bridges will help us bring new opportunities for game players to join the trend with the familiar, user-friendly format of the mobile phone,” said Mr Florin.

EA plans to release mobile versions of three of its big titles for this year, Fifa Football 2005, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 and Need for Speed Underground 2.

Next year, gamers can expect a mobile phone version of The Sims, as well as further titles, said EA.

In the long-term, the company is looking at ways of linking its mobile and consoles games.

A gamer could, for example, play The Sims on a mobile and then upload the changes to the game on a PC of console at home.

But EA admitted this vision of networked gaming is still some way off.

Game makers are realising that mobile gaming is a lucrative area for their products.

According to a recent report by analysts Ziff Davis, the popularity of mobile gaming in the US doubled in 2004 to more than 16 million household.

Nearly 70% of video gamers in the US own a mobile and 50% play games on their mobile devices, said the Ziff Davis report.

Analysts predict that over the next five years, the market for downloadable games could be worth billions to game makers and the operators of mobile networks.