by Noah Kravitz

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer officially kicked off this year’s CES with a Pre-Show keynote that focused on the past, present and future of consumer computing. Beginning with a look back at the launches of Windows Phone 7 and Kinect and ending with, you guessed it, a preview of some next-gen goodies from NVIDIA, the keynote made it clear that visually rich, power efficient hardware rules CES this year from the desktop to the pocket and beyond.

Ballmer’s keynote touched on literally everything from gaming to live sports broadcasts, and it ended with a preview of support for System on a Chip (SoC) compatibility in the next generation of the Windows OS. Microsoft ran through hardware demos of SoC products in development with MSFT partners including NVIDIA. Saving the best for last (ahem, perhaps?), Anguilo and Ballmer showed off a prototype Tegra 2-based system running a very early version of Windows for ARM.

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After showing how PowerPoint ran natively on the NVIDIA box, the boys showed off some of what NVIDIA is known for: Visual Computing. First up was a look at PowerPoint, followed short but impressive demo of Internet Explorer 9 Beta, featuring a nifty visual HTML 5 demo. Anguilo mentioned that the Tegra-based computer’s hardware accelerated graphics were well suited to smooth graphics and transitions, whether in productivity (MS Office) or Web browsing (IE 9) contexts.

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Then came the heavy artillery: Full 1080p video in the form of an Iron Man trailer running natively in Windows for ARM. The trailer looked great, and Anguilo stressed that the NVIDIA system could handle full HD playback without dropping frames, and that the hardware itself had an HDMI out port capable of sending the full 1080p signal to a big screen monitor.

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Windows support for ARM SoCs could be big, and Microsoft’s saving NVIDIA’s demo for last put a nice cap on a day full of Tegra 2 firsts. The first dual-core processors in mobile phones? Check, and then some, with devices from LG and Motorola popping up on three American carriers today. A Tegra 2 based phone that docks into a laptop shell that Motorola called “The future of mobile computing?” Yup, that’s the Atrix 4G for AT&T. The first 4G tablet computers to run Google Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” based (of course) on Tegra 2? Take your pick: Motorola Xoom or LG G-Slate.

And then a peek at the near future of full-on computing power and desktop operating systems running on an NVIDIA/ARM system on a chip? Yup. Saved that one for capping off the Ballmernote. Sounds like a pretty full day to me. And the show hasn’t even started yet, officially. I wonder what Verizon’s got in store for tomorrow morning’s keynote? Stay tuned…