TOKYO After several failed attempts at partnerships for game-console storage media, Nintendo Co. Ltd. has forged an alliance with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. The deal will help Nintendo gain access to key DVD technology for its next-generation game console, which is scheduled to hit the market by the end of 2000.
At the same time, Nintendo said the forthcoming game machine will use a custom PowerPC from IBM, an undisclosed high-bandwidth memory architecture and a 0.18-micron custom graphics chip with embedded DRAM to be manufactured by NEC Corp.
At a press conference here, executives from Nintendo and Matsushita billed their alliance as a comprehensive development agreement spanning not only game consoles but also networked digital consumer products.
The development agreement covers three technology layers. Matsushita will develop and produce DVD disks and a drive for Nintendo's next-generation game console, code-named Dolphin. Second, the two companies will collaborate on the development of products that merge games and digital audio/video functionality. Finally, the two will also jointly develop a new digital network platform named x21. Details for the new platform were not disclosed.
The alliance will benefit both Matsushita and Nintendo.
Nintendo has been looking for a software-distribution medium that will succeed mask-ROM-based cartridges, which is the medium Nintendo has been using until now. "CD-ROM was popular for game media, but it is easily copied. We did not want to use CD-ROM," said Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo. From the viewpoint of copyright protection, "we concluded that DVD is the best medium for software distribution, and allied with Matsushita for its DVD technology," he said.
Matsushita played the leading role in developing the Contents Scramble System (CSS), a DVD disk scramble/encryption technology that prevents illegal copying of DVD-Video. Nintendo considered Matsushita's existing technology and know-how, but the game company is not satisfied with the level of the current CSS.
To meet Nintendo's more stringent copy-protection requirements, Matsushita has been commissioned to develop an enhanced copy-protection system for Nintendo's game disk. "The disk for Nintendo's game system will be 99 percent the same as DVD." The difference will be in the copy-protection scheme, which won't be compatible with other DVD players. "Whether the disk can be called DVD or not is not yet clear," said Sukeichi Miki, director in charge of multimedia R&D for Matsushita.
The alliance will give Matsushita the chance to get into the game business again after the failure several years ago of the 3Do game platform, in which Matsushita had a substantial stake. To enrich DVD applications, Matsushita intends to market the DVD/game combo products that are developed as the second step of the alliance. The company, however, will not sell the game console itself, said Yoichiro Morishita, president of Matsushita.
The game console will be powered by a customized 400-MHz PowerPC from IBM using a 0.18-micron copper process. The use of the PowerPC marks a break from the technology of the current Nintendo 64, which uses a MIPS-based CPU.
The core graphics engine will operate at 200 MHz and will include embedded DRAM. That processor is being developed by Nintendo and ArtX Inc., a U.S. design house.
NEC will fabricate the graphics engine following a favorable evaluation by Nintendo of "NEC's embedded DRAM fabrication technology and its established production technology," said Genyo Takeda, general manager of research and development at Nintendo.
As for memory, the system has a bandwidth of 3.2 Gbytes/second, the same level as Sony's Playstation2, which uses Direct Rambus DRAMs. Nintendo did not disclose whether it will use Direct Rambus which can transfer data at 1.6 Gbytes/s per channel or another memory technology. Takeda said the memory bandwidth has enough performance to support texture and frame buffering.
Nintendo intends to disclose further details by the end of this year.