Mali: More than mobile

Think Mali, think mobile, right? Well, whilst Mali did indeed begin life as a mobile GPU, the story didn’t end there. As device demands and Mali capabilities grow, we see more and more innovative use cases requiring a dedicated, high quality GPU. From wearables to VR headsets we’ve talked a lot about these exciting, recent products, but one of the lesser known areas in which Mali is a silent stalwart is something a lot of us use every single day.

Digital Televisions, or DTVs, are now a prominent feature in most people’s homes, with over 230m televisions shipped in 2015 alone*. There’s also a steady increase in the complexity of viewed content, with the rise of 4K it’s increasingly important to bring features like High Dynamic Range (HDR), Wide-gamut color and ever improving sound quality. Whether we’re watching live sports, on-demand movies or streaming from YouTube, all these images have to be processed. Whilst it may seem obvious, a video processor like the recently launched Mali-V61 takes care of decoding your content from whichever codec necessary for the specific media you want to watch. Whether your content is encoded in HEVC, VP9, or older, legacy codecs, your TV has to understand what this is and decode, or decompress, it for viewing.

So, if the video processor is merrily sorting out all your content, what does the GPU do? Well the easiest aspect of television to overlook, but arguably the most vital to the user, is how we interact with it. The GPU is responsible for handling the rendering of all the graphics overlaid on the actual viewing content. So every time you hit that TV guide button, browse through Sky Cinema or pick a Netflix series to binge watch, your DTV’s GPU is making sure the experience is sufficiently fluid and streamlined that even those of us familiar with Mali might never make the connection. 

As all this UI cleverness takes place right in front of our eyes as we sit on the sofa every night, we probably don’t spend as much time as we should celebrating the DTV. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s not a priority for us but let me reassure you, we love all our devices equally. In fact, the Mali family of graphics processors aren’t just in one or two DTVs, but made up more than 75% of the DTV market in 2015, and feature in a huge range of devices from leading manufactures such as Samsung and LG. In 2016 this increased to around the 80% mark globally, contributing quite significantly to Mali’s status as the number one shipping GPU in the world, with 1Bn Mali GPUs shipped in 2016.

The Mali family of GPUs is known for superior performance combined with all-important energy efficiency and this means that even our smallest, Ultra-low power, range of products can easily handle the job. The Mali-400 GPU, the most popular mobile GPU in the world,** along with its Ultra-low power companion, Mali-450, are indeed very popular in these kinds of devices. However, as we know, this industry never sits still.

So what’s next? Well as 4K screen resolutions become more prevalent, and we as users demand ever greater control with a more intuitive user experience, these needs are continuing to grow. Not only that, but we’re moving more and more towards using our TVs for high end gaming, contributing additional complexity and putting greater pressure on the system to perform. Add in the growth of HDR, set to be a big focus in 2017, and you have a whole new set of challenges. Whilst our eyes and brains can handle a broad dynamic range of colours and hues, televisions have historically been much more limited in their abilities. If there is a great deal of detailed contrast in a scene they can struggle to reproduce the finer nuances of shade, in which case the sky for example, can appear white instead of blue. HDR allows the TV to produce the sharpest contrast across the colour spectrum in order to display the crispest colours from the very palest white to a deep, true black. Due to the nature of LCD TVs this true black has historically been difficult to achieve as the LEDs behind the screen remain continuously lit. Part of the way HDR is achieved is by exploiting the maximum possible brightness and black level. These levels are measured in nits so a certain nits measurement must be achieved in order for a DTV to be classified as HDR capable. This gives our viewing experience a more dynamic quality and allows our brains to interpret a truer version of the scene we see, but of course adds additional complexity to the data to be managed by the GPU. ARM partner LG SIC recently selected Mali for HDR as featured in LG’s recent HDR TV, taking advantage of Mali’s performance and efficiency capabilities and keeping Mali at the forefront of DTV innovation.

The High area efficiency range, like our recently released Mali-G51, strikes a perfect balance of performance whilst still reaching better than ever efficiency and is therefore perfect for these devices. As the DTV is mains powered, unlike in mobile, we don’t face the same limitations on battery and thermal limits which can restrict the performance we can safely expect from a device. We do, however, still need to make them efficient enough to meet with ever stricter regulatory guidelines, such as those enforced by the EU, and to be cost effective for our partners to implement in their devices. It’s not only power that contributes to costs but silicon area as well, which is why with every product we aim to exact more performance out of an ever smaller silicon area, to keep bringing you awesome Mali powered products across everyone’s budget.

Graphics & Multimedia blog