Today we have a new add-in board coprocessor in town. Caustic Graphics has announced their CausticOne hardware and CausticGL API which will enable hardware accelerated raytracing. We are reminded of Ageia's venture into dedicated hardware for physics, but Caustic Graphics seems to be taking a more balanced approach to bringing their hardware to market. The goal is to start at the top where cost is no object and get developers interested in and working with their hardware before they bring it to the end user.

Pixar and other studios that make heavy use of computer generated animation for films tend to have render farms that can take seconds, minutes or even hours to render. With full length films lasting about 150000 frames (plus or minus), that time really adds up. Those that need to render one frame as near reality as possible (say car designers doing preliminary visualization of a new model) can kick off rendering jobs that take days to complete. These guys put tons of cash into their computer systems. Time is money and if Caustic can save these guys more time than it would cost them to buy the hardware and port their software, then Caustic will do well.

The long term goals might have something to do with gaming, but we definitely aren't looking at that option right now. By trying to penetrate the market at the back end like this, Caustic Graphics may avoid the pitfalls we saw Aegia run into. Of course, at this point it is unclear whether or not the end user will even need a dedicated raytracing card by the time the hardware makes it to market. With current GPUs getting faster all the time, CPUs becoming increasingly parallel, and Larrabee on the horizon, there are quite a number of factors that will affect the viability of a part like this in consumer space.

Regardless, Caustic Graphics is here and ready to start making an impact. Their SDK should be available to developers today, with hardware soon to follow. Before we take a deeper look at what Caustic Graphics is offering, let's talk a little bit about the differences between rasterization (what current GPUs do) and raytracing (what the Caustic Graphics hardware will accelerate).

What is Raytracing?
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  • tdenton1138 - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    Check out their videos here:

    http://vimeo.com/4240520">http://vimeo.com/4240520
    Reply
  • poohbear - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    im so replacing their ugly blue heatsink w/ my own aftermarket cooling..... gonna overclock the hell outta this thing!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT! Raytracing here i come! Reply
  • Flunk - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    The use of FPGAs for Caustic One makes it sound more like a prototype than an actual product. It's nice to see people trying to sell new ideas but it might be a bit premature today. Then again a proof of concept is always nice. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    FPGAs are good enough if the benefit is real. lots of people use FPGAs in shipping devices. an ASIC would be better (faster), but it requires a lot of start up money. Reply
  • DeathBooger - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    I'm a professional 3D artist. I don't really see this taking off. Right now I have a core i7 and it does the job for me just fine. I create photorealistic images and animations for a living and I don't really see the point of this in this day and age. And if I can't see the point, I doubt production companies with access to large render farms will. Especially if it makes more fiscal sense to pop in a new processor instead of changing out all of the mainboards to fit a new card that might be faster.

    The software used for ray tracing these days is a lot faster than it used to be. 3rd party apps like Vray pretty much solved the issue of slow ray tracing years ago.

    I could see this taking off for games to get real time global illumination to be come a standard, but only if Microsoft and Sony decides to add Caustic hardware to their next consoles. Keeping it PC exclusive wouldn't go anywhere long term.

    Actually another prospect would be for Nvidia to buy them out since they own Mental Ray. Mental Ray is the renderer that ships with most 3D software these days. It still won't change the fact that people in the know use Vray instead since it's a lot faster than Mental Ray and more user friendly. Mental Ray is more powerful in the right hands and I could see the film industry gobbling these cards up if the SDK was implemented into Mental Ray, but freelance guys like me probably will never touch one.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    You dont sound like you actually know what you're talking about in respect of this hardware let alone like a professional 3d artist who does what this thing was designed for... Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    I'd like to disagree too. They say they provide a 20x improvement in rendering times. Surely this card will be cheaper than buying 20 processors. And who said you need to replace the mainboard? It clearly uses a PCIe slot. Look at the pic.

    Now if Intel can deliver something with similar better performance with Larrabee, at a price point that many consumers can afford, then things would be different.
    Reply
  • DeathBooger - Wednesday, April 22, 2009 - link

    PCIe is a rare commodity in servers still to this day. Render farms use servers, not typical workstations. This company is essentially trying to add another component where one never existed before. That requires a total reconfiguration for server farms. It's not like each server has a video card that can just be swapped out for this Caustic card easily.

    Tell you what, if Pixar adopts it, then I'll eat my words. Pixar has the resources to do anything they want. If they find value in this card then I was wrong.
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    Uh, you might want check the HP, IBM and Dell server linups...

    New Intel/AMD servers do have PCIe (mostly 8x and 4x)
    New RAID controllers are mostly PCIe 8x or 4x
    10GB ethernet, fiber channel cards, etc. are mostly availible in PCIe too.
    Reply
  • Tuvok86 - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    Monsters vs Aliens movie required 40 million hours of rendering time Reply

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