Tony King-Smith, executive vice president of marketing at Imagination (Kings Langley, UK), told the International Electronics Forum held in Dublin Oct. 2 to 4, "Ray tracing; we will bring that to mobile."
Imagination’s ray-tracing technology was acquired when the company bought Caustic Graphics Inc. in December 2010.Since then Imagination has implemented the technology in FPGAs and supplied it to developers and researchers.
King-Smith said Imagination has had Caustic’s technology in 90-nm CMOS for six months and is now developing cores targeting the upcoming 16-nm process technology node. Sampling to interested parties will take place in 2014 and King-Smith said he expected the cores would be in mobile SoCs in about 2015.
In his presentation at the Future Horizons organized IEF he pointed out that current graphics – rasterized and tile-based rendered graphics – is the underlying rendering flow that is used in all most all PCs and mobile devices but that it does not inherently support the behaviour of light. As a result current graphics rendering uses simplistic techniques to emulate basic reflections and shadows, which never look realistic.
Ray tracing models light inherently by calculating the path light takes to point of view and the effects of reflection from various surfaces, allowing scenes to be highly realistic. Although used for many years in non real-time computer generated imagery (CGI) for films, ray-traced graphics has never previously been deployed in mobile equipment because of its heavy computational requirements.
However, as image resolution has increased on mobile devices the workloads for conventional rasterized graphics rendering have also increased along with computational resources. The innovation of full or partial ray-tracing of a scene is becoming a possibility King-Smith said. Ray-tracing also provides hardware that could be useful for extending GPU-compute, the technique where GPU cores can be used to perform hardware acceleration for particular applications.
However, given that the graphics delivery infrastructure is mainly focused on rasterized graphics, how ray-tracing is introduced will be critical to its chances of market success, King-Smith acknowledged. He said that niche applications such as online and on-mobile shopping could benefit from hybrid rendering that uses both ray-traced and rasterized rendering. Also ray-traced graphics has a part to play in the content development for tablet computers and mobile phones and efficiencies could come from some reorganization of the rendering flow.
Imagination was known to be headed in this direction. In April 2012 the company announced the addition of a software development kit to allow its PowerVR graphics processor cores to use ray tracing leaning on a CPU for computational support.
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