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Sony and IBM take on digital content creation with Cell workstation

One of the least-reported announcements of E3 to date is also one of the most worrying for Microsoft - with Sony and IBM announcing co-development on a Cell-based workstation which is aimed at the content creation market.

One of the least-reported announcements of E3 to date is also one of the most worrying for Microsoft - with Sony and IBM announcing co-development on a Cell-based workstation which is aimed at the content creation market.

The workstation, which will ship before the end of the year, will feature an architecture based on the parallel processing Cell chip, and will be designed to power digital content creation for movies, television and videogames.

Cell is the next-generation microprocessor created jointly by Sony, IBM and Toshiba, and it is expected to power a whole range of both consumer and high-end appliances in the future - including the PlayStation 3 game console.

IBM will be building the Cell workstations, with Sony providing the architecture, algorithms, middleware and data structure for digital content creation tools on the platform.

The Cell technology, which has a major focus on working in parallel across high-speed networks, is considered to be ideally suited for jobs such as special effects rendering or content creation for movies or next-generation videogames.

The news of the joint plan will come as a shot across the bows of both Intel - which has recently been enjoying dominance of this market - and Microsoft, which now faces the prospect of high end content creation being done on the same non-Windows platform that will eventually become the development tool for PlayStation 3.

"Microsoft should be really worried by this," one developer told us today. "They've been touting Xbox 2 to their partners and talking about the kind of content they want to see created on the platform - more polygons, higher resolutions, more effects - and our response has been that the tools to create this stuff for games don't really exist yet. Now Sony has effectively created those tools."

The Sony solution is certain to integrate tightly with the PlayStation 3 development system, whereas developers working on Xbox 2 will probably still be tied to Windows - making the task of putting digital content from the Cell workstations (whose proposed role reminds us of the market position occupied by Silicon Graphics workstations in the early nineties, before their performance was overtaken by x86 PC systems and PowerPC Macintosh systems) into Xbox 2 titles much more difficult than the equivalent task on PS3.

The announcement of the workstation also fills in a further piece of the jigsaw in Sony boss Nobuyuki Idei's plan for the company - adding the tools to create digital content to a business model which already includes the publishers of digital content, and the manufacture of the playback devices for that content.

Author
Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.