First up in our CES coverage, an overview of the highly-anticipated keynote address from Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, delivered as the big evening event prior to CES 2017 opening to the public tomorrow, January 5th. Before we get into the details, we want to make something clear to our readers. CES is a whole lot bigger than gaming, and the audience for keynotes is a whole lot bigger than gamers. The reason companies as diverse as Nissan, Carnival Cruises, and Huawei are giving keynotes here this year is simple: marketing. You pay to give a keynote, and in return you get a huge audience that you wouldn't otherwise get. CES is expected to attract nearly 200,000 attendees, and is covered by just about every news outlet around. A keynote is an opportunity to say "Hello, world!"
So, with that introduction out of the way, we can tell you what this keynote was not: a love letter to hardcore PC gamers. In fact, the only reference to Nvidia gaming GPUs in the entire keynote, which lasted over an hour, was to the GeForce GTX 1080 (pictured below), launched in May 2016. And even it didn't appear "in the flesh", but rather was used to stream video games over Nvidia's refreshed GeForce Now service. Many companies have tried this, and in fact a whole company (LiquidSky) dedicated to the very same concept will be delivering a big announcement at CES as well. We're not sure whether Nvidia has any better know-how regarding getting streaming to work fluidly, but it certainly has access to GPU farms that can handle the rendering. Note that while GeForce Now will be available to any PC owner (and even Mac owners, as Nvidia demonstrated during the keynote), its most likely audience will be owners of the Nvidia Shield, a new version of which was announced as well, at the tantalizing price of $199. Given that it's the first device to support both Amazon's and Netflix's 4K HDR content, it might actually pick up some fans outside of the diehard gaming community.
If this passing reference to the GeForce GTX 1080 was all we heard of Nvidia GPUs in gaming, what was the rest of the keynote all about? Well, suffice it to say, it wasn't about the rumored "GTX 1080 Ti," which simply put might not exist at all. There have been a lot of "facts" thrown around, including Nvidia's "Step-Up" program for GTX 980 Ti owners, a goofy $900 price, and an odd 10GB memory layout, but given that not a single benchmark has surfaced, we weren't surprised when the 1080 Ti didn't show up at CES. With AMD's Vega still months away and the GTX 1080 still selling very well, Nvidia just doesn't have a reason to rock the boat quite yet, as it would only be competing with itself.
Indeed, the rest of the keynote was about everything else Nvidia is doing, which Jen-Hsun bragged was a result of the huge profits its gaming division has generated. The one focus area that came as no surprise given the fact that Nvidia's CES booth is right in the heart of the automotive section of the show was Nvidia's broad efforts in autonomous driving. Nvidia announced its PX 2 "supercomputer" for automobiles last year at CES, and this year Nvidia showed off some of the achievements it's made in this area, including a demonstration self-driving car it has oddly named BB8. We're not sure if there's a Star Wars connection, but if there isn't, Nvidia better be ready for a call from Disney's lawyers!
On a related note, Jen-Hsun talked about the difficulty in making computers think like humans, giving the example of how a human can recognize another human's face instantly, even when seeing only a portion of it, whereas a computer typically has a lot of trouble with this type of task. Using "Deep Learning" techniques made possible by Nvidia's GPUs, computer scientists are beginning to find ways to make computers process data a lot more like humans. This wasn't really a new announcement, nor a new Nvidia product, but it is thought-provoking, and maybe even a little scary given what sci-fi movies have taught us.
Also on display was a very surprising new product in the Smart Home arena called Nvidia Spot. We actually though Jen-Hsun was saying Nvidia Spy over and over again, until we saw the text up on the screen, and given what it does, a lot of people will think it is indeed a spy. Basically, it's an advanced microphone, something like Amazon's Echo, that uses beamforming techniques to hone in on a human speaker in a room, thereby avoiding interference from background noise. Nvidia is touting the use of Spy, oh sorry, Spot, as an add-on to the Shield, although Jen-Hsun said it would also work with Samsung's SmartThings platform. It's powered by Google's voice assistant (OK Google), the same thing you'd find on Android smartphones. That's a whole lot of moving parts, most of which are out of Nvidia's hands. All in all, we don't quite get why Nvidia would be interested in this rather niche area, especially when it needs to compete against Amazon's runaway hit, the Echo.
Finally, Nvidia announced its new integration with Facebook. Frankly, we're really not the ones to judge its worth, as the purpose is simply to live-stream video games to Facebook, which we aren't going to be doing anytime soon. In any event, there are a lot of existing, popular ways to do this. It's not clear what Nvidia gains from this partnership, although perhaps it thinks it will sell a few more GPUs to Facebook users who'd otherwise buy an AMD Radeon, or perhaps not game at all. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we all know Facebook has a huge user base, so maybe this will work out for Nvidia in the end.
That's about it for Nvidia's big announcements. Again, this was really an opportunity for Nvidia to tell the world all the things it can do besides build gaming GPUs, and in that sense, it was a fairly successful keynote. But due to its breadth, it was just a bit incoherent, and we have to say Jen-Hsun wasn't quite as crisp as he could have been. Ah well, he was probably a bit nervous - it was a pretty big audience, after all!
Important update! Not content to accept silence from Nvidia on the topic, we headed straight to one of Nvidia's biggest board partners, MSI, for more insights on what to expect from Nvidia in the near future. MSI confirmed that the GTX 1080 Ti is indeed in the pipeline, that it will be available from board partners (including MSI), and that it will launch in the March timeframe, potentially to coincide with the PAX East convention.
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