Caustic Graphics, a small startup out of San Francisco, is promising exponentially faster raytracing as early as next year. Founded by a group of former Apple engineers, the new company is touting its CausticOne graphics accelerator card as the solution to the sluggish raytracing techniques currently available.
For years, the rendering option of choice for the gaming industry has been rasterization. Raytracing is a wholly different approach, which holds promise for more realistic graphics. The trade off with raytracing is that it requires much more processing muscle than rasterization.
Intel has been one company behind raytracing, but its demos are completely reliant on the current CPU/GPU setup. The tech giant's position on raytracing is that its CPUs can handle raytracing while also handling other general purpose duties. Caustic says its CausticOne card can give a 20x speed boost to raytracing, and "uses a host of new raytracing technology and algorithms to off-load raytracing calculations and prepare data for your GPU/CPU." By the end of 2010, the company claims that number will be up to 200x.
On the software side of things, CausticGL is a new API based on OpenGL that includes raytracing extensions, allowing for such techniques to be readily available to game designers.
While Caustic will be ready with its hardware and software sometime next year, the question is will the masses be ready for such an add-in card? In order for the tech to catch on, it will need adoption by both consumers and most game developers (or at least the big ones). Plus, with high end gaming PCs already costing an arm and a leg, the addition of a $xxx Caustic card may not be seen as a prudent investment by some. PhysX tried the add-in card approach for game physics, but the technology never caught on until the company was bought by Nvidia and the technology was integrated in the company's graphics cards.
While raytracing gives games a fresh look, and is indeed promising, rasterization is by no means looking old. Sure, Quake 4 may look good with raytracing, but it may take another couple of years for the technology to catch on.