Ever wondered what would happen if you put the PlayStation 3's Cell processor into a laptop? Us too, and now we know the answer: you get the Toshiba Spurs Engine, a system that turns a normal laptop into a motion-sensing, video indexing, face morphing, standard-def to hi-def converting super machine.
The system was demonstrated in modified Qosmio G45 laptops, each of which uses a standard Intel Core 2 Duo CPU in addition to a Cell chip with four 1.5GHz synergistic processing elements (SPEs). For reference, the PS3 has eight SPEs running at 3GHz, making it approximately 75 per cent quicker. Like any sensible human beings, we wondered how much all this would cost, but Toshiba assures us that if the system actually does come to market, it won't be too expensive. Yeah, and pigs can parallel park.
Toshiba had four demos running, the first of which transformed standard-definition video into 1080p. This takes any grubby-looking 640x480-pixel video -- of the sort you might record with a mobile phone or digital camera -- applies some hardcore image processing, and spits it out a few hours later as full 1080p. The effect was extremely impressive, and proves that you can, to some extent, polish a turd. Toshiba says it's possible to do this using an ordinary Intel Core processor, but the Spurs system speeds things up considerably -- what would take 24 hours with an ordinary laptop can be done in just three hours with the aid of Spurs. Stop sniggering, Arsenal fans.
The second demo was equally impressive, if a tad pointless. It allowed us to control a Qosmio G45 laptop using hand gestures -- like in Minority Report. The on-board webcam monitored our hand movements and the Spurs system translated these as instructions for the PC. We could pause and resume movie playback simply by holding our palm in the air, or control a cursor by waving a fist at the screen. Selecting options can be achieved by giving a thumbs-up. It's not as easy as, say, using a remote control, but it is very cool indeed.
Demo 3 might interest anyone with a shed-load of video to sort through. It scans all your movie files, recognises faces and creates thumbnails of those faces. You can then click the thumbnails to watch scenes with those faces in, or compile them in a separate playlist. This might be useful for creating a 'best of' reel of your favourite actor, but we didn't bother playing it for too long -- we got distracted by the next demo.
The final Spurs demo was the most fun of them all. Again, it uses the laptop's webcam -- this time to take a picture of your face. This it turns into a pseudo-3D representation of your mug, which you can modify in some interesting ways. We tested it by applying some pink hair, a facial tattoo and some make-up, which did a great deal to improve our four-days-in-Vegas appearance. We don't envisage it being used by many people, but it could be handy for next-gen instant messaging clients or in hair salons.
As with all things cool, Spurs is not yet available to consumers, and may never actually come to market. But it's fun to dream. Make sure you watch the video to see it in action. We think you'll be mightily impressed. -Rory Reid