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nVidia's First Visual Computing Confab Dazzles

SAN JOSE, Calif. - One week after the buttoned-down seriousness of the Intel Developer Forum, another chip company, nVidia, kicked off its NVISION 08 conference with some flashy demos and lots of fun.

Whereas Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) CEO Paul Otellini was on vacation and left the heavy lifting to Chairman Craig Barrett and other top executives, nVidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) CEO Jen-Hsun Huang starting things off himself.

While Intel executives were seen in business attire or perhaps a company polo shirt, Huang wore a plain t-shirt and jeans. IDF's special guest was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, while NVISION featured Battlestar Galactica actress Tricia Helfer who had no problem getting the attention of the overwhelmingly male audience.

The conference is primarily being carried by nVidia and its naming convention matches that of the company, but Huang made it clear this was meant to be a broader conference. "We've never had a conference dedicated to visual computing. We're going to change that this week," he said from the stage.

Later, in a post-keynote conference with reporters, he said the company "wanted to define the industry as Cisco defined the networking industry and gave it a platform for many to be successful in it, so other companies can say we are in the visual computing business."

As such, nVidia made no product announcements - despite rampant rumor at IDF last week that it would be introducing its own x86 part - because the company felt the conference wasn't the place for its own news. "We had to do the heavy lifting this time. Next year more will be here," said Huang.

Next time: Intel and AMD?

Possibly even Intel and AMD (NYSE: AMD), which he said were invited and he wanted to have them there, but the two firms, as much rivals as business partners, didn't want to contribute funding. "A lot of people are taking a 'let's see if you can pull it off' approach. Next year they are going to want to be part of it," said Huang.

For a first show, NVISION 08 had the appearance of a more established event. More than 300 companies are showing off products or sponsoring the show, or both. The key message that nVidia wants to deliver on behalf of the visual computing ecosystem is how large it is, Huang said.

"When you think about graphics, a lot of people think nVidia makes graphics chips for games. We love to do that, but it really is only the tip of the iceberg of what we do for a living, which is solving some of the world's most complex visual computing challenges," he said during the keynote.

Next page: Not just nVidia's show