I have been skeptical about how revolutionary the Creative Zii platform actually is since Creative has a history or over hyping products. I also don’t hear anyone else talking about it other than Creative- more is being said about Nvidia’s Tegra chip within the circle of industry insiders and device manufactures. Perhaps the Zii has not been out long enough for it to sink in, but it the way Creative is talking about it seems like more people should care. While I still hold a healthy bit of skepticism, I have warmed up having seen the Zii chips in action at CES.
At CES 2009 there were a few reference designs showing off various applications extending beyond portable media such as surveillance camera systems, set top boxes, and a matrix of ZMS-05 chips making up a teraflop computer. This to me was the most interesting show how the Zii chip can scale, but far more impressive to me was not its computing power but the amount of heat it was giving off. There was plenty of ventilation in this rig, several 120mm fans running at high speed, but the exhaust didn’t feel much warmer than the room temp or the show floor.
Though there appears to be a slight caveat to this, in the video on the landing site, zii.com, they say that it can’t calculate nuclear decay, but it will calculate the things you care about. The take from this is the Zii won’t be in the next number crunching super computer but it will do a very efficient job at crunching media.
One of the other notable demos was a single Zii chip running four 720p displays. This same board was running 1080p flawlessly on another display so to upscale 1080p (1920×1080) to 2560×1440 is not the big of a stretch. Sure it’s still very impressive from a single chip, but the display was quite a bit of fanfare without a clear explanation.No one was forthcoming on what Creative devices might see in the future but it seems we will see a Zen Zii player in 2009 from the way they are talking. What I was most interested in was how these chips would perform battery wise in portable devices but no one could give a good enough answer. The best I got was “at max it will consume 1 watt”. By contrast Nvidia told me that the Tegra platform would consume 350mw crunching 720p h.264 video. Take that with a grain of salt since there are still too many unknown to directly compare them- use it as speculation.
My take from Zii is that it is indeed very impressive, but I don’t think it’s a game changer since there are many other chip makers with similar capabilities in the portable device space such as Imagination Technology’s PowerVR SGX543 said to be the graphics behind upcoming iPhones and Nvidia’s Tegra chips which we will see in upcoming Windows Mobile phones and other media devices coming this year. I would not at all be surprised to see Tegra in upcoming Zune hardware. There is plenty of competition in the low powered graphics space, but I think Creative will do a nice job of holding its own.