After putting the final touches on the soon-to-be released Caustic Visualizer v1.0 for Autodesk Maya, our colleagues at Caustic set out to revolutionize the digital media and content market. By releasing two brand new OpenRL-based ray tracing PC boards, Caustic gives artists and developers the affordable hardware they require to accelerate their work at unprecedented levels of quality. A quick demonstration of the potential behind these boards can be found on display at Imagination’s booth at CES 2013, which is on the upper level of South Hall 4 (booth S215-S216).

An overview of Caustic’s ray tracing solutions and feedback from shows

The PC boards work together with the workstation’s existing CPU to provide a faster, more intuitive way to create digital content. The Caustic Series2 ray-tracing boards were exclusively previewed at Autodesk University and SIGGRAPH Asia and have the following specifications:

The Caustic R2100 is a half-size card for single CPU workstations, with one RTU (Ray Tracing Unit) chip and 4GB RAM, costs just $795, and comes with a free license for a Caustic Visualizer plug-in

Caustic R2100 Ray Tracing Accelerator Board

Caustic R2100 Ray Tracing Accelerator Board

The Caustic R2500 is the full-size card for dual CPU workstations, with two RTUs and 16GB RAM and is priced at $1,495. A free license for a Caustic Visualizer plug-in is included as well, just like with the R2100.

Caustic R2500 Ray Tracing Accelerator Board

Caustic R2500 Ray Tracing Accelerator Board

Any of these boards provides the same performance as stacked traditional GPUs. By using just one Caustic PC card, developers not only reduce costs (the cheapest option is priced at only $795) but also save electrical power, as the rated consumption peaks around 30W, almost three times lower compared to equivalent GPU systems.

 

Furthermore, ray tracing is inherently unsuited for GPU rendering, as the graphics memory subsystem is inefficient at handling incoherent rays. Existing single-GPU compute-based software solutions are not able to handle the amount of processing required to replicate the level of fidelity provided by Caustic’s hardware ray-tracing solution.

The feedback we’ve received from previewing these boards at the two shows in the US and Singapore was extremely positive. Visitors were amazed at how quickly artists were able to make changes to their existing work and then immediately see the results in the viewport window of Autodesk’s Maya or 3ds Max. Here are just some examples of what can be achieved with Caustic’s combination of R2500 and R2100 hardware and Visualizer software solutions:

 Headphones rendered with Caustic's Vizualizer Maya pluginHeadphones rendered with Caustic’s Visualizer Maya plugin

Island City scene rendered with Caustic's Vizualizer Maya plugin

Island City scene rendered with Caustic’s Visualizer Maya plugin

This unique ability to modify content and then see the effects in real-time make Caustic’s ray tracing solution is a perfect fit for both small indie studios that want to compete in the aggressive digital media market but also larger outfits demanding a more flexible technology for their developers.

How hardware ray tracing works

Simply put, the problem of rendering 3D graphics means finding the intersection between a set of triangles or polygons and a set of pixels. All typical graphics processing units (GPUs) use different algorithms to solve this. For example, our PowerVR tile-based deferred rendering splits the scene into tiles in a grid pattern. Each tile is then evaluated for triangles that visibly overlap in a ray-casting fashion and surfaces that are hidden are removed before the texture and shading process starts.

The ray tracing algorithm solves the rendering problem in a different way compared to traditional GPU implementations. In each step, it finds intersections of a ray with a set of relevant primitives of the scene.

The advantage of using Caustic’s hardware implementation over existing solutions is not just in the raw speedup of the complicated computational processing but also the high degree of visual realism provided in real time. The hardware boards are designed to organize scattered rays typically produced by global illumination problems into more coherent sets for efficient intersection processing and subsequent shading by an external processor, like the CPU or GPU.

Ray tracing is much better at simulating optical effects like reflection and refraction, scattering, and dispersion phenomena compared to traditional rendering methods like scanline. The R2500 and R2100 boards are optimized to work with the Caustic Visualizer plug-ins for Autodesk Mayaand3ds Max and the Neon plug-in for McNeel Rhino 5. They are capable of a 300-500% performance increase compared to software rendering running just on CPUs.

What’s next for Caustic

The Caustic team is dedicated to constantly improving and updating these viewport plug-ins. Developed using Imagination’s PowerVR Brazil SDK and fully utilizing Imagination’s PowerVR OpenRL ray tracing API, the Caustic Visualizer for Maya 2013 has already been available to users as a  download via the company’s open beta program while the production version of the 3ds Max Visualizer will be available in the second quarter of 2013, with beta trials coming early next year.

The Caustic Visualizer viewport renderer is designed to update and respond to all edits in 3ds Max and Maya ‘on the fly’ while preserving their powerful interactive workflows. This includes any geometry, lighting and shading characteristics changes. For example, selected objects in the Maya viewport continue to have fully editable wireframes and manipulators overlaid on the real-time ray traced shaded preview.

 

Thanks to Imagination’s unique, high performance OpenRL-based ray tracing hardware and software technologies, the Visualizer photorealistic viewport provides far higher visual quality than 3ds Max and Maya’s normal rendering viewports, including globally accurate lighting, reflections and shadows with 3ds Max native, Maya native, or mental ray shaders.

Caustic's Vizualizer plugin for Maya

Caustic’s Visualizer plugin for Maya

It enables artists to identify and resolve potential problems within their final renders from the earliest stages of modelling – minimizing the need for time-consuming preview renders and radically streamlining the look development process.

Don’t forget to pre-order

You can pre-order both the Caustic R2500 or R2100 boards and the full version of the Visualizer v1.0 for Autodesk Maya now on the Caustic Professional product page.

For more announcements and news on Imagination, its Caustic division and the exciting line-up of ray-tracing solutions, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationPR and @CausticGraphics) and keep coming back to our blog.

About the author: Alex Voica

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Before deciding to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing, Alexandru held various engineering roles at leading semiconductor companies in Europe. His background also includes research in computer graphics and VR at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa. You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica.

View all posts by Alex Voica