by Anton Shilov
01/24/2012 | 08:08 PM
Imagination Technologies, which could not popularize its graphics accelerators for PCs in early 2000s and decided to concentrate on mobile graphics adapters instead, may return to PCs and bring-in real-time ray-tracing accelerators.
Imagination Technologies tried to popularize its tile architecture for graphics processing units (GPUs) in the late nineties and the early thousands. While some products, e.g. Power VR Kyro, managed to boast respectable levels of performance, ImgTec could not capture significant share of the market due to very fast progress demonstrated by ATI Technologies and Nvidia Corp. and the lack of ties with PC OEMs. But the company may get back to discrete accelerator cards for personal computers already this year when it launches real-time ray-tracing accelerators.
Back in late 2010, ImgTec acquired Caustic Graphics, a startup that was working on rather unique ray-tracing technologies that even developed patented hardware and software technologies to radically lower the cost and dramatically increase the efficiency and performance of ray tracing. For example, Caustic technology allowed the coexistence of traditional polygon based rendered objects (e.g. objects created using OpenGL ES) and life-like ray-traced elements in the same scene.
At present Caustic and Imagination are working in a discrete real-time accelerator with the aim to release one in 2012, which will be the first PowerVR discrete solution in more than ten years, according to VR-Zone web-site. The companies already demonstrated real-time ray-tracing acceleration at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month using OpenRL 3.0 "Brazil" SDK, hence, the product works. It is unknown whether the companies used an FPGA for demonstration of the ray-tracing capability, or built a graphics processor based on PowerVR 6-series architecture that is powerful enough to handle complex things like realtime ray-tracing.
At present professional and specialized that demand photo-realistic and cinema quality graphics rendering solutions take advantage of ray-tracing technology. There are many talks that eventually consumer graphics adapters and software will also use ray-tracing tech once it becomes enough cost-efficient. The latest PowerVR 6-series graphics technology is already powerful and feature-rich enough to match mainstream graphics solutions of today. Provided that its performance is on par with ATI Radeon HD 7000-series and GeForce 7-series "Kepler" GPUs, and it can do ray-tracing efficiently, ImgTec may find itself competing on the market of PC graphics again. Initially, only in some segments.