Ray tracing. It's a term to hear a lot now, as Nvidia has announced professional and consumer graphics cards using this technique to produce some of the most lively simulations that are possible in games and other animations. So, what is Ray Tracing exactly and how is it different from today's graphics rendering techniques?
The oversimplified answer is that radiation tracking models the behavior of light in real time as it crosses objects in a scene.
It's a feature that can lead to spectacular new graphics, but has been very difficult to pull off due to the calculation requirements. But Nvidia addresses several issues facing Ray Tracing with a new graphics architecture known as Turing.
Firstly, you tackle the issue of launching next-generation computer graphics. Ray tracing is just one of many rendering techniques, but that's where Nvidia pushes hard because it's especially suitable for adding realistic, real-time lighting and effects.
The second issue is the cost of calculation: The best Turing Professional Professional Card costs $ 10,000, but it was even more expensive to use beam tracking before. What's new here is Nvidia ready to bring ray tracing tech to consumer-level GPUs; It has not been done before.
Nvidia's current graphics technology – and most of the industry – simulates light and how easily behaves in a given scene in a simpler way, using something called rasterization. As a painter paints layers on a canvas, objects are rendered from the back to the front so that in the front they hide the objects in the back.
This makes it difficult to model a mirror, for example because rasterization techniques can not track and model the light itself. It is often used in real-time scenes because today's generation hardware can not comply with the requirement to simulate a complex scene in motion for anything that requires it (say a game or 3D animation).
This next generation of light simulations can model light in much more detail, without as much calculation cost as before. Ray tracing models the behavior of light as it intersects surfaces, materials and moving objects.
A trail that moves through a scene can be reproduced more intricately now. With beam tracking, you can simulate how light rays interact with objects and produce realistic reflections, refraction and spread effects in real time. Ray tracing can even detect and render mirrors, break glass, determine where the light in a scene originates, and even determine the color of the light as it passes through objects.
On paper, it seems that the reproduction technique is almost for realistic, but not just new-ray tracing has been used in the professional industry for many years. It has already been employed in popular media, such as Pixars Monsters University and Marvel's Iron Man films. What makes the advertising exciting is finally available for consumer goods; a feat that was too hard and expensive before.
Here is an example of real-time real-time raytracing in a Star Wars demo, using Nvidia's professional Volta RTX graphics card:
What did Nvidia keep from achieving this kind of performance for consumers is that radiation detection requires an incredible amount of computational ability. Nvidia's CEO Jensen Huang said that this is "the only biggest leap we've ever made in a generation."
It makes sense, considering that the new Turing architecture used in Nvidia's new GPUs is designed to solve the treatment problem. Dedicated beam core cores work in conjunction with Tensor cores – they use AI to derive the "real time" part – to produce simulations six times faster than the previous Pascal platform (GTX 1080Ti, etc.).
It's a big jump in graphics technology and exciting when you think of the studios and individuals who want to find new uses for raytracing in animation, games and science simulations.
Although the new hardware Nvidia produces will only be available for desktops first, laptops with ray tracing tech will start coming to the market next year so they are not too far away. In fact, some upcoming games like Metro: Exodus already have Nvidia RTX demos that show real-time ray tracing that does.