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"VM Labs NUON Technology"
  10/01/2000

Like many others, my entertainment center is often cluttered with enormous piles of what simply amounts to electronic junk. There are incredible numbers of items that seem to have only a single purpose -- to collect dust. Or at least that's what I'm guessing they are for. I'm not even sure if the majority of it even works. And if they do, I'm not sure if anyone would really want to listen to a 10-year-old cassette deck. With the proliferation of DVD players and digital recorders, the VHS is getting more obsolete everyday. Wouldn't it be great if we had some type of device that could play games, do some basic web browsing, play movies and music CD's and have the ability to be updated rather than discarded? If VM Labs has their way, we may soon have one.

Start-up VM Labs first displayed its new NUON architecture at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas although it had been leaked to the media as "Project X" several years ago. The technology developed by VM Labs is extraordinary as it uses a software programmable media processor that offers several advantages over traditional silicon based hardware. Although the advantages cover a wide range of areas, the ability to update the technology simply by reprogramming it rather than developing something completely new is probably the most promising. The chip itself contains a stand-alone, powerful 1,500 MIPS engine that processes wavetable, MPEG, AC-3 and PCM audio and 2-D and 3-D graphics.

The only problem with the technology might be finding suitable uses for it. Previous concepts such as CD-Interactive (CD-I) where not successful although their technology was very good at the time. Several forthcoming DVD players from Toshiba and Motorola are said to use the technology, but it remains to be seen if additional manufacturers will adopt it. Currently, only a handful of software titles have been ported to the architecture.

While there are a few drawbacks, you certainly cannot argue with the ideas behind the technology. The NUON has several additional features that really make it stand out and devices built around this technology should be great hosts for entertainment software. The NUON architecture is capable of handling 16 million colors, anti-aliased scaled fonts, 256 levels of transparency, and multiple 2D and 3D rendering engines. It also supports graphics effects such as plasma, voxels, procedural textures, parametric modeling, particle systems, and ray tracing. As was previously mentioned, it can process over 1.5 billion individually programmed instructions every second and in VM tests, it theoretically operated at the same level as a Pentium II based machine running between 500 MHz and 1000MHz.

You will find NUON based devices hitting the market sometime in the near future. Toshiba's digital consumer products and Motorola's Streamaster set-top box reference architecture are a couple of the proposed uses. The single biggest problem facing VM Labs might be the lack of a single market to support this exceptional technology, but if they have their way, we will be seeing it in the majority of our entertainment devices.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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