In August Rob Jamieson took his annual trip to Siggraph, the worldÝs largest graphics show and conference, to see the latest trends and to present some of AMDÝs new products.
This yearÝs Siggraph took place San Diego on the west coast of the US, closer to Silicon Valley, and was probably the reason why it was better attended than last yearÝs Boston event. The show presents numerous papers about theories or direction of graphics, mainly incorporating 3D, as well as cool emerging technologies where you can see ýwacky¯ ideas in action. Tagged onto this is a big exhibition where all of the large corporates compete for delegateÝs attention. This started at the airport where Autodesk had positioned bill posters above the baggage belts showing off its products. This probably proved quite demoralising for its competitors if this was the first thing that they saw upon landing. It became even worse when Autodesk held the biggest party on a docked aircraft carrier in the bay ± blowing every other party well and truly out of the water!
AMDÝs new toys: I didnÝt have the opportunity to see all that I would have liked at the event as I had work commitments and was tied to presenting to the press about AMDÝs five new workstation cards, which were launched at the show. As a blatant product plug these are AMD / ATIÝs second unified shader core, after the Xenos chip in the Xbox 360, and offer an increased number of unified shaders or ALUs (arithmetic logic unit) allowing them to process a lot more geometry in one go – something that design applications love. Once the drivers are optimised for each application I expect these to be good all round performers.
Technology on show: On a technological front some of the areas that interested me were the increased use of realtime shaders to provide true raytraced lighting in creative applications available in the viewport. This was implemented through DirectX and also through OpenGL. This is of course limited to the power of the graphics card but shows that realtime in professional applications (and not just in gaming) is becoming the norm. Realtime rendering is vital if what we create in a 3D application is meant to look like real life.
Microsoft Vista was shown on many stands as a solution that was supported but not by as many as I was expecting, as most companies were touting Windows x64 or Linux 64-bit support. I have heard that Microsoft is only selling very few 64-bit versions of Vista compared to the 32-bit, which I personally think is mad as the 64-bit support is one of the best reasons for Vista. And finally, everybody had multicore applications listed but few were making a big thing about this, which again surprised me.
Dassault Systemes: Dassault presented a paper about VBO (Vertex Buffer Objects) being implemented in Catia Version 5 Release 18, enabling larger models to be loaded in realtime and to be manipulated faster. This is currently only supported by FireGL. Dassault also had a complete aircraft loaded on AMDÝs stand, which was being manipulated in realtime and looked fantastic. I found it quite funny though when one of the press guys suggested the aircraft was a stripped out model or that some trickery had been involved. Perhaps it was witchcraft on DassaultÝs side (IÝm joking) but my point was that pushing out the frontiers is what the show is about, not deceiving people.
Google: Google had a large stand and while they did have 3D Sketchup, the stand was possibly bigger than they really required. I know that the market capitalisation of Google is more than MicrosoftÝs today but Microsoft didnÝt seem to even have a stand of its own which surprised me ± though it was present in other interesting areas of the show.
Emerging technologies: I only had limited time to get to see the best bit of the event (as far as I was concerned) which was the emerging technologies. These were split into practical applications and artistic ones.
A lot was centred on the man to machine interface with different ways to interact with computers to create something. By disturbing shallow water pools virtual fish would follow your fingers and were displayed on screens beneath. Also, motion capture devices were hidden underneath clothes, making a big difference to mapping green screen created 3D geometry onto live action in realtime.
MicrosoftÝs Surface interactive table was where you used your hand to manipulate menus designed for clubs or bars ± demonstrated by the ability to order drinks or playing card games etc. Very slick but it wasnÝt so happy if you let your cuffs trail over the menus by mistake. Also on show were some fun retro looking Glowbots that harked back to the 80s and that interacted with one another as you picked them up or hit them in a different way. Lots of fun but IÝm not sure where you would use them apart from as toys.
There was a display of a MITÝs wind up XO Laptop for the One Laptop per Child Foundation, which uses a low power CPU for web browsing and a simple physical direct plug network. I donÝt think that you will be running any CAD applications on them soon but it does show the increasing reach that the web has or will soon have over the poorer next generation. The laptops did prove quite robust as while I was there somebody knocked a stack off them on to the floor and, amazingly, they carried on working without a problem.
In the art exhibition I noticed a 3D line scan of a British battleship upside down on the sea bed with its gun turrets swung out. I found this quite unusual but also interesting because of the strange detail portrayed. It gave a feeling of a ghost ship where you know sailors lost their lives on this ship. On a lighter note there was an alien (from the movie version looking like H.R. GigerÝs original) painting made out of fruit which made me smile.
For me SIGGRAPH proved again that the 3D Graphics market is strong and that it remains of great interest to a number of different audiences e.g. it was featured on a UK BBC breakfast show where the target is very much more gadget-focused. In short 3D, whether in gadgets or in professional applications, is here to stay as a major force in our all of our futures whether we like it or not.
Robert Jamieson works for the hardware manufacturer AMD. The opinions in the article are not necessary the opinions of AMD as a company.