As we approach the end of the year, when the first round of consumer level virtual reality headsets will be released, the focus and the hype have been geared towards the gaming side of VR, but the technology can be used for much more. Nvidia has developed DesignWorks VR, which expands on the existing GameWorks VR SDK, to make it easier to create some of these other experiences.
DesignWorks VR includes a number of tools for application developers, as well as a few features designed for headset developers. For the software devs, Nvidia has included support for VR SLI, which enables the ability to dedicate a GPU to a single eye. This can be done in DirectX and OpenGL, and Nvidia said it will dramatically accelerate rendering. DesignWorks VR also makes use of GPU Affinity, which manages workloads across multiple GPUs. Nvidia said this allows developers to specify the GPU to work on specific OpenGL tasks.
DesignWorks VR includes support for Multi-Res Shading, which renders scenes in varying resolutions for each part of the scene. The company said this will help improve performance by not using up the GPU to render details that may be warped, not in the view or an HMD. The Warp & Blend API is also included, it automatically makes geometry corrections, and Nvidia has included a number of techniques to reduce tearing and image misalignment. Nvidia has also developed technology that enables developers to overlay video and graphics into VR environments that it calls GPU Direct for Video.
DesignWorks VR isn't just for software developers; Nvidia has developed a set of tools for headset makers, too. Context Priority allows headset developers take control of GPU scheduling, which enables support features such as asynchronous time warp. Nvidia said this technology will enable rapid tracked head movement without the need to re-render a new frame.
Direct Mode is also part of the DesignWorks VR bundle. This display mode treats VR HMDs as VR-only displays; they're not treated as additional desktop screens in Windows with Direct Mode, enabling the display only when a VR app is running.
Also available to headset developers is Front Render Buffering. Nvidia didn't explain much about this feature except that it enables the GPU to use the front buffer to render directly, which it said reduces latency.
Ford's Focus, Etc.
Nvidia said that Ford Motor Company is the first automotive company to make use of DesignWorks VR. The company uses an ultra high-definition virtual reality simulation for digital prototyping new vehicle designs before making a physical prototype. The system makes use of two Quadro M6000 GPUs to render the scene, and engineers use a headset from Oculus to view it. Autodesk VRED 3D visualization software is used in this system, and according to Nvidia, both Ford and Autodesk reported significant performance gains when DesignWorks was implemented.
Virtual reality cinematic experiences are getting a lot of people excited, and DesignWorks VR is geared for this space as well. Weta Digital, in partnership with Epic Games, is among the first teams to be working with DesignWorks VR to create movie-like experiences. The company has a demo set up at SIGGRAPH this week showing off Thief in the Shadows, an immersive experience set in Smaug's (re: The Hobbit) cave of treasure. Nvidia said you take the role of a hobbit sneaking through the cave. (We got a compelling look at Oculus Story Studios' animated VR film, Henry, recently.)
Nvidia's DesignWorks VR SDK is available now, but only to select VR headset and application developers. The company is accepting registrations requesting access, which can be done on the Nvidia developer website.