Toshiba Quad Core HD Coprocessor at Work
From the platform’s point of view, the Toshiba Quad Core HD is an ordinary PCI Express device. It thus needs a driver to work properly.
The driver doesn’t offer any additional functions. It just allows the SpursEngine to communicate with the OS. You need special software to load this device with work. Toshiba is distributing its API among software developers, so everyone can theoretically make use of the additional computing capabilities provided by the SpursEngine. On the other hand, there is still very little software that supports the Quad Core HD processor.
Why? Well, it only makes sense to put some computing load on a third processor when the CPU and GPU are already loaded with work. However, this scenario is only typical of 3D games, but Toshiba touts its SpursEngine as a means of interactive video processing and does not intend it for game applications yet.
Thus, the owner of a Qosmio F50-10K is offered only four applications that can make use of the Quad Core HD processor.
First, it is high-quality scaling of HD video content. To remind you, video on DVDs is stored at a resolution of 720x480 pixels but modern HD TV-sets and PC monitors have higher resolutions. Therefore DVD content is stretched out and blurred in full-screen mode. Toshiba suggest using the SpursEngine to additionally process the video stream in real time to improve the sharpness of video content played in full-screen mode.
From a practical point of view, the sharpness enhancement for scaling video content is available in Toshiba DVD Player (Upconvert feature). The SpursEngine does make the image sharper and more saturated. It looks as if color correction and the Sharpen filter are applied to the video.
The second feature implemented through the SpursEngine is the gesture-based control over the notebook – remotely and without any additional devices. On the technical level, this is achieved by analyzing the video stream from the integrated web-camera for specific user gestures. This analysis is performed in real time by the Quad Core HD processor, so this technology does not affect the CPU or GPU whose resources remain free for other applications to use.
With the current implementation of this technology the notebook can recognize three predefined gestures. Swinging your fist you can make the pointer move on the screen whereas showing the notebook your thumb or palm you can emulate the pressing of mouse buttons. I should acknowledge that this technology really works and you can indeed control your Qosmio F50-10K from a distance. The only downside I could find is that this manual interface doesn’t work well under dim lighting. However, this problem is only due to the low quality of the notebook’s 1.3-megapixel web-camera. You can switch the gesture-detecting application to an external image source, though.
Video scaling and gesture-based control are the best illustration of the SpursEngine’s capabilities as of today, although Toshiba offers one more tool that can work with this exclusive processor. It is Graphical Video Library that can work with video files recorded in formats the Quad Core HD processor supports, i.e. MPEG-2 and H.264. The usefulness of this program is questionable, but it can utilize the Quad Core HD processor for two tasks: re-encoding video with a higher degree of compression and indexing clips by means of characteristic frames with facial close-ups.
According to Toshiba, the exclusive processor helps accelerate the performance of the mentioned tasks. Indeed, Graphical Video Library is very fast at re-encoding and indexing.
However, the practical advantage of Graphical Video Library over other video-processing tools is not so obvious. You can do the same jobs with other programs that utilize the resources of the CPU and GPU but do not have such limitations concerning the supported formats. The algorithms of encoding video on the graphics card’s shader and stream processors can even show a higher performance thanks to paralleled GPU architecture.
Unfortunately, these are all the applications of the SpursEngine currently available although its potential is high. As is often the case, the main problem is the deficient software support for the Quad Core HD processor due to the latter’s low availability. But even those few available applications look highly promising. That’s why the introduction of the SpursEngine into computers doesn’t look like pure marketing to me. I hope other resource-consuming video-processing applications will be able to utilize this processor’s capabilities soon.