The “Great Big Visual Computing Show” opened with a keynote address from Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, who attempted to truly define what visual computing is. To do this, he needed some help from a variety of special guests.
Before delving into what visual computing was, Huang described the “Nvidia ecosystem”, which encompasses everything from gaming to film and TV to digital photography. All of these different types of media revolve around visual computing in some capacity, and thus some sort of GPU. “The GPU has been the most dramatically innovative in computers in the last 15 years,” said Huang, “Few technologies have made the leaps that the GPU has made over the last several years.”
In order to get the importance of visual computing across, Huang needed some help. One of the more interesting presentations came from Peter Stevenson, the COO of RTT, an automotive design company that uses 3D visualization rather than clay modeling. Stevenson demonstrated this software by taking the CAD engineering data from a Lamborghini and producing a life-like re-creation of the super car. Using a hybrid method that combines rasterizing, ray-tracing, and several other methods, RRT can make a model that is true in every form, down to the light refraction.
On the social networking side, Taehoon Kim of Nurien Software demonstrated how Web 2.0 utilizes the latest in graphics and demonstrated refined interfaces while offering game play in a “Second Life” atmosphere — all this while using the micro-transaction business model to support itself. The Nurien Social Network, based in Korea, looks to mimic every aspect of real life but in an online game. Taking a tour of Taehoon’s virtual house, the audience could see two televisions on his wall, one displaying photographs and the other displaying video in real time. With the micro-transaction model, Taehoon hopes to see the same success as Second Life, and also attract some real world businesses to virtualize their products. The point Kim stressed was that making any human interface more visually appealing, keeps users coming back, asking for more, and just offers a better overall experience.
On the software front, one application that has been around for some time now is Photosynth and the Sea Dragon platform it is based on. Coming out of a Microsoft research lab, PhotoSynth, being shown off by Joshua Edwards, takes every photo of a given object or event, say StoneHenge or a map from Halo 3, and places them on a 3D map by targeting unique points in every photo and piecing them together. Whether Photosynth really requires cutting edge graphics though, is another topic.
Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), arguably the biggest celebrity at this years nvision, was on hand to stress the importance of visual computing in film and television. On a show like Battlestar Galactica, CG plays a major role, said Helfer, so it is important for the computer-generated Cylon’s to look realistic. On the other hand, Marv White, CTO of SportVision, uses visual computing to give television, specifically sports broadcasts, an almost surreal look. Not only does SportVision add in the line of scrimmage and first down lines during football games, but now they also visualize the pass arc, running routes, and a dozen other aspects of the game. Not only that, but they also animate the air coming off a NASCAR stock car, showing the naked eye how drafting really works.
With CG in production movies however, things are rendered on massive farms and are not calculated and displayed in real time. The detail and resolution far surpass what’s used on the desktop today.
In order to use and manipulate all the new kinds of photography and imagery tools available now, Nvidia says that we need a new kind of display. Jeff Han of Perceptive Pixel was on hand to show us such a display. While this isn’t exactly new, the gesture-driven multi-touch display being used to manipulate video, maps and photos was still impressive and will help in ushering in a mouse-less age.
This wouldn’t be an Nvidia conference without talking about games. Huang showed an Age of Empires III demo running in Stereoscope, a new type of 3D that could be added to games within the next several years. Huang also said that this technology could bring people back to old games because it can be added so easily. If and when this takes off, I wouldn’t mind playing a 3D version of Red Alert 2 or Doom 3, that’s for sure.
More to come.