Nvidia Chief Scientist discusses ray tracing

— 6:00 AM on March 7, 2008

There are faint whispers across tech sites that Larrabee, Intel's first crack at a discrete graphics processor, will accelerate ray tracing. Intel publicly stated a couple of years back that it believes ray tracing is "the future for gaming," and the company later hired a developer who wrote ray tracing 3D renderers for id Software's Quake 3 and Quake 4. That's all well and good, but what does Nvidia—the current market leader in raster-based graphics hardware—think about all this?

The folks at PC Perspective have interviewed Nvidia Chief Scientist David Kirk in order to find out. Kirk talks at length in the interview about what he believes are the pros and cons of ray tracing, and how the technology compares with raster rendering methods used by today's graphics application programming interfaces and GPUs. His take is that ray tracing is by no means the be-all, end-all for 3D rendering, and that rasterization has compelling advantages over it.

With that said, Kirk adds that he believes ray tracing is "part of the answer" and will likely be used in the future for real-time 3D graphics. "I don't exactly see a convergence," he elaborates. "But I do believe that hybrid rendering is the future. Ray tracing is excellent at producing some effects, but slow at others. . . . A hybrid renderer can parsimoniously choose the best of multiple techniques, to produce the best quality images quickly." If hybrid rendering takes off, Nvidia is set for it: the company's graphics processors cores could be "very efficient" at handling ray tracing if harnessed through CUDA, Kirk says.

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