Has Imagination's ray tracing achieved the Holy Grail in computer graphics?
Imagination says its PowerVR Wizard ray-tracing GPU provides a budget of 300 million rays per second in a mobile power envelope and can sustain real-world applications with highly incoherent rays, enormous scenes, and shaders that execute hundreds of instructions to resolve each ray.
The hybrid rendering concept shown at GDC 2014 was a great demonstration of how Imagination used its PowerVR ray-tracing technology to produce beautiful and power-efficient images on a mobile platform
Ray tracing has been the Holy Grail in CG. It offers artists the ability to accurately simulate the behavior of light and instantaneously visualize the subtle lighting effects of any tweak to their game assets. It offers advanced lighting effects, dynamic soft shadows, and life-like reflections and transparencies, previously unachievable in a mobile form factor.
Ray tracing is used today to create the beautiful images that get "baked in" to the lighting maps that are used in many games. And at GDC 2014, the latest generation Unity 5 game engine was announced, which embeds Imagination's PowerVR ray-tracing software technology for interactive real-time lightmap previews.
Games aren't the only users of ray tracing -- almost all car commercials and brochures now use ray-traced images rather than photography. For example, Gavin Greenwalt of Straightface Studios used Imagination's Visualizer for Maya 1.3 software, run on PowerVR ray tracing to create the TV commercial for Jeweler's Mutual Insurance Company, titled Crab – Perfect Circle.
Jewel Thief crab ponders its plunders.
(Source: StraightFace Studios)
Specifically, Imagination says the PowerVR GR6500 will deliver:
- Ray tracing -- 300 MRPS (million rays per second) and 100 MDTPS (million dynamic triangles per second) at 600 MHz
- Shading: Four Unified Shading Clusters (USCs), with 128 ALU cores delivering in excess of 150 GFLOPS (FP32) or 300 GFLOPS (FP16) at 600 MHz
- PowerGearing G6XT for advanced power management and dynamic resource allocation
- PVR3C triple-compression technologies (PVRTC and ASTC for texture compression, PVRIC for frame buffer compression, PVRGC for geometry compression)
- Deep Color support for very high image quality at Ultra HD resolutions and beyond
All the Imagination cores are designed to provide leading support for a range of APIs such as OpenGL ES 3.x, OpenGL 3.x, Direct3D 11 Level 10_0, OpenCL 1.x, and OpenRL 1.x.
The ray-tracing approach can provide substantial benefits when used for real-time rendering in game engines, too. PowerVR Wizard GPUs allow the coexistence of traditional, polygon-based, rendered objects (e.g., objects created using OpenGL ES) and lifelike ray-traced elements in the same scene.
Traditional, rasterized-only rendering cannot model light transport accurately.
PowerVR Ray Tracing GPUs offer ultra-realistic shadows, reflections, and transparency at no extra cost.
This hybrid rendering technique primarily provides high-quality, dynamic lighting and shadow effects and can improve other elements of the game engine as well.
Ray tracing can add a superior shadowing or lighting solution to existing games while allowing game developers to preserve the vast majority of the investment that they have already made in their game engines and tools. In addition, dynamic generation of assets in-game will streamline the content creation workflow and save distribution costs by reducing the size of the game files.
The PowerVR Wizard GR6500 core is available for licensing now.
Unity signs up
UK-based game engine and benchmark developer Unity announced at GDC it has chosen Imagination's real-time ray-tracing technology to enable game creators to view in-game lighting effects with immediate feedback as they work with the upcoming release of Unity 5. Artists and game designers will be able to immediately see their work with accurate lighting that matches the final look of their games.
The Unity 5 lightmap editor uses PowerVR Ray Tracing technology to improve pre-baked lighting.
Unity Technologies and Imagination have entered into a longer-term strategic collaboration to blend ray-tracing capability into the gameplay experience that will run on consumer devices (that have integrated Imagination's new PowerVR Wizard Ray-tracing GPUs). Integrating ray tracing directly into the game engine through this hardware IP solution could lead to interactive game graphics that will look as realistic as CG movies do today.
— Jon Peddie is president of Jon Peddie Research.