I always liked the phrase one fell swoop so the chance to use it in an article title is just a bonus for me. By now you’ve heard about this thing Intel calls Sandy Bridge. But what you might not understand is just exactly what it means for the digital video industry and more importantly, for you. So let’s cross the bridge and see what’s on the other side.The other side of Sandy Bridge is a very bright future for the video industry as a whole. What Sandy Bridge actually is, is a single chip that contains a quad-core CPU, processor graphics, shared L3 cache and memory controllers and I/O. A single chip will hold around 1.16 Billion transistors, which is pretty massive. It’s an all-in-one solution that no longer needs a discrete graphics adapter (extra video graphics card). It is capable of some pretty amazing things. Here’s a run down of what it will do for us all.

A Bridge Over the Insecure Stream

First off, from a big box content stand point, Sandy Bridge and Intel Insider give a very important end-to-end solution for video stream content security and encryption. This is so powerful that Warner Brothers has stated that their most valuable IPs will come to a streaming service in the near future, that will be WBShop.com and partners like Best Buy’s CinemaNow. It means that their highest grossing titles will be available in full on 1080p HD streaming and they will be available on or before DVD sale date. Sounds to me like WB might have been one of those studios plotting the demise of Netflix.

Netflix will either need to step onto the Sandy Bridge or be left standing in the past I think. While they certainly won’t be able to limit all content to it, because the chances of most consumers instantly upgrading is slim, they will need to start thinking for the future and this could very well be the hardware security solution that the big studios need to feel secure that their content won’t be wildly pirated cutting into their bottom lines. OK, it will still probably be wildly pirated, but at least this will give a solution that will allow for that high end (not necessarily high quality) content to be streamed to a PC near you. That will be worldwide according to Kevin Tsujihara, President of Warner Brothers Home Group. He stated that in the simplest terms, the PC always was viewed as a strong opportunity for WB but the risk was too high for them to drop their high-end HD stuff out there for the masses. But they’re going ahead full bore now with not only HD, but 3D content for streaming. He also mentioned that it will be more than just simple content delivery but it will be more of a service. That sounded to me like the WB is going to do something like extra content, interactive features and the like, along with simple streaming of content.
Other partners include 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Image Entertainment, Roxio, Best Buy’s CinemaNow, UTV and Dreamworks.

The Bridges of Transcode County

Another area that Sandy Bridge is going to massively change is transcoding. Mooly Eden, VP and GM of PC Clients at Intel, demonstrated just how much of a change it will be. He took a four minute HD video file and transcoded to iPod compatible video in 16 seconds. It did something like 345 frames per second! Without the help of any extra video hardware. No, really. That means that you could serve multiple formats of all your content in a much shorter time than ever before. They accelerated their performance tenfold in the last few years in this area.

UnaBridged Discreteness

Video card makers might want to start worrying. If the 2nd Generation Core processors can do that sort of transcoding without needing an external Gfx card, they might need to start looking into other ways to sell their $400 add-on cards. Often, CPU, RAM and Gfx card were the factors for quick transcoding. Now it seems that by integrating and massively boosting performance of its processor graphics, Intel leveled a shot right across the bows of those card makers, basically asking “what do you bring to the table now?”

NVIDIA is looking to shift its focus to ARM and Superphones it seems though their 500M will also power a load of new laptops coming out this year.

Part of this performance boost from Intel comes from the new 32 nanometer technology which gives a full 130% performance boost over the 2006 130 nanometer technology. Even when compared to the previous i7 chips, the new Sandy Bridge shows a 69% performance boost for things like spreadsheets, word processing, etc. In regards to photos and slide shows, there’s a 62% boost. when compared to the Core 2 Duo, those number jump to 831% and 333%.

All of these performance enhancements mean that the chip is so powerful that external cards are unnecessary. Part of that whole performance boost comes from the proximity of the processor graphics and the cores along with the shared L3 cache. A lot less distance and transmission of data is certainly part of the equation.

Bridging the Reality Gap

Mooly also demonstrated some ultra-cool real-person powered virtual avatar tech. Facial recognition is one thing, but making your avatar move exactly like your face does is something else. It means that virtual online worlds like Playstation Home, Planet Calypso and pretty much any virtual world on the PC, will be almost like real life. Facial expressions where translated quite realistically and it’s only a matter of time until that is combined with full body gaming, like the Microsoft Xbox Kinect, to make for hyper-realistic game avatars that mimic our every move. Now if we could get master that whole virtual reality goggle thing without it being burdensome, we could soon see TRON-like worlds as a reality.

The potential of the Sandy Bridge for gaming was proven by none less than Gabe Newell, Valve’s founder. He stood up and talked about how Portal 2 was being made to utilize all Sandy Bridge had to offer and that the game would be ready for the world in April, 2011. Jeff Bellinghausen, Sixense CTO showed how the game can be played with full on motion controls via the Razer Hydra motion controller for PC. Any direction and movement you can do in real life with your arms, wrists and hands, can be translated into the virtual world now.

Bridges, Screens and Streams, OH MY

Intel also introduced their WiDi 2.0, the updated version of their wireless display technology. With the new updated version and the processing power of Sandy Bridge, you can now stream full HD video to almost any display that is connected.

A Sound Foundation

Along with the all new hardware technology comes all manner of new functionality. This includes things like:

  • Intel Clear Video HD technology – to improve visual quality and color fidelity.
  • Intel InTru 3D – stereoscopic 3D Blu-ray playback at full 1080p over HDMI 1.4 and premium audio.
  • Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 – Enhanced 3D performance for gaming and other virtual environments.

Supporting the new 2nd generation Intel Core processors are new chipsets including the Intel H67, P67, Q67, Q65 and B65 Express. The 2nd generation i7, i5 and i3 Desktop Processors (the official name now) have a full load of all kinds of really cool technical stuff plugged into them. But I’m not going to bore you with all that. The simple fact that it did 345 frames per second transcoding should be enough for you to know that the computer video future is extremely bright.