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).