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Future iPhones May Offer More Realistic Lighting and Shadows with New Ray-Tracing GPU

Apple's graphics partner for iOS devices, Imagination Technologies, has announced a new version of its PowerVR graphics architecture that includes ray-tracing capabilities. Apple currently uses the PowerVR G6430 graphics package from Imagination in its latest A7 chip that powers the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and Retina iPad mini, so Imagination's new technology is likely of interest to Apple.

imagination_ray_tracing
Offering more realistic lighting and shadows, the new GPU design known as "Wizard" marks a significant leap forward by bringing ray tracing to mobile devices.
For the better part of the last eight years, we have been busy developing unique hardware and software technologies to radically lower the cost and dramatically increase the efficiency and performance of ray tracing.

This work culminates at GDC 2014 with the official launch of the PowerVR Wizard GPU family, a range of IP processors that offer high-performance ray tracing, graphics and compute in a power envelope suitable for mobile and embedded use cases. This opens up the potential of highly photorealistic, computer generated imagery to a host of new real-time applications and markets not previously possible.
AnandTech has more on the developments, which are an extension of the Series6XT graphics profiled last month, noting that Imagination is combining ray tracing with traditional rasterized graphics.
Rasterization is still the fastest and most effective way to implement a number of real-time rendering steps – rasterization has been called the ultimate cheat in graphics, and over the years hardware and software developers have gotten very, very good at this cheating – so the idea is to continue to use rasterization where it makes sense, and then implementing ray tracing effects on top of scene rasterization when they are called for. The combination of the two forming a hybrid model that maintains the benefits of rasterization while including the benefits of ray tracing.
imagination_rasterizedimagination_hybrid
Comparison of traditional rasterized (top) and hybrid rasterized/ray-traced (bottom) scenes

Alongside the upcoming mobile GPU designs that will support ray tracing, Imagination's expertise in ray tracing will include an impact on game developers in the nearer term with yesterday's unveiling of version 5 of the popular Unity game engine. Unity 5 will leverage Imagination's ray-tracing technology to allow game developers to view lighting changes in near real time, accelerating the development process.

Apple has not been explicitly mentioned as interested in taking advantage of the new Wizard GPU designs, but the company has used Imagination GPUs in all of its iOS devices and is a minority investor in Imagination, holding an approximately 10 percent stake in the company.

As for timing, it seems that Wizard GPUs will not be making their way into products until 2015, indicating that they are not candidates for the iPhone 6, which is expected to debut later this year. Future iPhone models could, however, incorporate Wizard GPUs for more realistic graphics, and it appears that Imagination is banking on this technology becoming the standard for mobile GPUs in the future.

Top Rated Comments

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7 months ago
Am I the only one who prefers the rasterized-only image in the example?
Rating: 14 Votes
7 months ago
Think of how it will make a snappier Safari!
Rating: 13 Votes
7 months ago
future iphones may offer reality distortion fields
Rating: 12 Votes
7 months ago

Am I the only one who prefers the rasterized-only image in the example?


yes
Rating: 11 Votes
7 months ago

Think of how it will make a snappier Safari!


Every time someone posts this, a kitten gets hit by a car.
Rating: 11 Votes
7 months ago
Frankly the iPhone and iPad have the most impressive graphics performance of any mobile device - look at top tier games on the iPhone 5S compared to its counterparts... Not even close.

A bump like this would be killer for anyone who loves gaming on iOS.

Also - appleTV gaming anyone?
Rating: 8 Votes
7 months ago
you'd be able to snap unicorns using these.
Rating: 6 Votes
7 months ago

future iphones may offer reality distortion fields


I thought this was standard with every Apple product...
Rating: 6 Votes
7 months ago

You're mixing things up here. Ray Tracing has been around for decades, it is true. Pixar had a lab full of beefy computers that rendered every frame in Toy Story (the first one) using Ray Tracing. It took them several weeks to render the entire 90 minute movie.


That is not quite correct. Pixar uses their own render engine called PR-Man (or often referred to it's API name 'Renderman') which was originally developed by Ed Catmul, Rob Cook and Loren Carpenter. Back on Toy Story, PR-Man did not have Ray-Tracing capabilities yet. Instead it utilised a 'REYES' algorithm (an abbreviation for 'Render Everything You Ever Saw') which is very much scanline. It's only much later that Pixar started adding Ray Tracing algorithms into PR-Man (Cars, I think it was... edit: Finding Nemo more accurately), turning it into a Hybrid Engine, which many in the know will argue is what's causing it's current decline in Visual Effects industry use.

There are a lot of misunderstandings and incorrect statements being thrown around in this thread regarding what Ray Tracing is, what it's not and where it's currently at. Ray Tracing is a vast field in CGI that is still enjoying a lot of research and development.
For those who'd like a better understanding, I urge you to read the article The Art of Rendering (http://www.fxguide.com/featured/the-art-of-rendering/) over on the FX-Guide website. It's considered by many in the industry as one of the better write-ups of the current state of the art.

One exciting example of current day "real-time" ray tracing is the 'Brigade' renderer, which is a Path Tracer. Path Tracing is but one of many ways to do ray tracing and in this case one of the most photographically accurate (albeit computationally also one of the most expensive) as it's a technique that naturally resolves Global Illumination, Depth of Field, Motion Blur, soft shadows, caustics, etc.
Here's an example (http://vimeo.com/77192334) of it in action in real-time. As you can see, we've got a ways to go yet, but then again, as I said, Path Tracing is one of the most expensive ways to do ray tracing. There are many cheats and shortcuts that can be made to improve render times. So it's not quite as black and white some here think it is.
Rating: 6 Votes
7 months ago
I can't believe you guys didn't post this from their twitter

I agree. Just sayin'. In the ray traced one you can't see the tree or the car. Hopefully this is simply a proof of tech. I don't really care if every leaf has it's own lifelike shadow if the picture as a whole looks dingier.


The contrast in the rasterized image is overblown. The ray traced has a more accurate physical representation since its based on the actual physics of incident light sources.
Rating: 6 Votes

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