Issue: Volume 34 Issue 8: (Oct/Nov 2011)


Khronos Enriches Cross-platform 3D Graphics with OpenGL 4.2

The Khronos Group, an industry consortium creating open standards to enable the authoring and acceleration of parallel computing, and graphics and dynamic media on a wide variety of platforms and devices, has released the OpenGL 4.2 specification, bringing the latest graphics functionality to the most advanced and widely adopted cross-platform 2D and 3D graphics API. OpenGL 4.2 integrates developer feedback and continues the rapid evolution of the royalty-free specification while maintaining full backward compatibility—enabling applications to incrementally use new features while portably accessing state-of-the-art GPU functionality across diverse operating systems and platforms.

The OpenGL 4.2 specification has been defined by the OpenGL Architecture Review Board (ARB) working group at Khronos, and includes the GLSL 4.20 update to the OpenGL Shading Language. The OpenGL 4.2 spec contains new features that extend functionality available to developers and enables increased application performance. (The full specification can be downloaded at

New functionality in the OpenGL 4.2 specification enables shaders with atomic counters and load/store/atomic to read-modify-write operations to a single level of a texture. These capabilities can be combined, for example, to maintain a counter at each pixel in a buffer object for single rendering pass order-independent transparency. It also supports the capture of GPU-tessellated geometry and drawing multiple instances of the result of a transform feedback, to enable complex objects to be efficiently repositioned and replicated.

In addition, the spec allows for modifying an arbitrary subset of a compressed texture without having to re-download the whole texture to the GPU for significant performance improvements. Also, it enables the packing of multiple 8- and 16-bit values into a single 32-bit value for efficient shader processing with significantly reduced memory storage and bandwidth, which is especially useful when transferring data between shader stages.

In other news, the Khronos Group widened its call for participation in its two newest working groups: StreamInput and WebCL. StreamInput is defining a cross-platform API for advanced sensor processing and user interaction, and WebCL is creating JavaScript bindings to OpenCL to enable heterogeneous parallel computing in HTML5 Web browsers.

“Advances in computational power on a wide range of platforms and devices are greatly accelerating sensor innovation, from nine-axis, motion-positional sensors, to depth-ranging cameras. StreamInput will drive the market adoption of advanced sensors by enabling input fusion innovation under a common API that provides portability to application developers,” says Neil Trevett, president of Khronos and vice president of mobile content at Nvidia. “WebCL is the natural extension of the WebGL and OpenCL work already under way at Khronos, and continues the trend of evolving HTML5, not only to support advanced Web experiences, but also to become a full-fledged application platform with access to advanced device capabilities.”

Adobe Enables 3D Games with Flash Player 11, AIR 3

Adobe Systems has announced Flash Player 11 and Adobe AIR 3 software to enable the next generation of immersive application experiences across devices and platforms, including Android, Apple iOS (via AIR), BlackBerry Tablet OS, Mac OS, Windows, connected TVs, and other platforms.

As the game console for the Web, Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 allow game publishers to instantly deliver console-quality 2D and 3D games over the Internet to nearly all PCs and many other devices. Media companies can take advantage of new features to deliver protected feature-length, cinema-quality HD video through the Web, in mobile apps, and even with surround sound for connected TVs.

Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 provide a cross-device entertainment platform, enabling the best in online gaming and premium video, while helping content publishers extend their reach.

Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 offer a number of new features, including: accelerated 2D/3D graphics, AIR native extensions, captive runtime, content protection, HD video quality across platforms, and more.

Graphics Add-in Board Shipments Decline

Jon Peddie Research (JPR) revealed that the estimated graphics add-in board (AIB) shipments and sales market share for Q2 2011 came in below the last quarter, at 16.1 million units compared to 19.01 million for Q1 2011.

The AIB report tracks graphics boards, which carry discrete graphics chips. They are used in desktop PCs, workstations, and some other devices, such as scientifi c instruments. They may be sold as after-market products directly to customers, or they may be factory installed. In all cases, they represent the higher end of the graphics industry as discrete chips rather than integrated processors.

The evolution of the graphics market has resulted in two major super-categories of graphics AIBs: those that carry Nvidia graphics chips, and those that carry AMD chips. Nvidia GPU-based boards declined slightly by 0.1 percent from Q1, while AMD-based boards increased 0.1 percent for the same period. Sales of AIB products have been directly impacted by the rise of integrated CPUs from Intel and AMD, which have increasingly powerful graphics.

Shipments during the second quarter of 2011 behaved according to past years with regard to seasonality but were lower on a year-to-year comparison for the quarter. Q2 was down from the previous quarter by 15.2 percent, and the 10-year average for the quarter is -11.2 percent.
JPR’s forecast for the coming years has been modified since the last report and is less aggressive on AIBs due to the prolonged worldwide recession and the impact of embedded graphics on the low end.

In terms of market share, market leader Nvidia lost share by 0.1 percent from the first quarter, while AMD’s market share increased 0.1 percent for the same period. On a year-to-year basis, AMD lost market share by 0.8 percent, while Nvidia gained 1.1 percent of market share. Obviously, these are not huge moves in the market, and Nvidia still leads in unit shipments.

Over 16 million AIBs shipped in Q2. Nvidia was the leader in unit shipments for the quarter, elevated by double-attach and GPU-compute/CUDA sales.

The AIB market is fueled at the high end by the enthusiast gamer—small in volume (approximately three million a year) but high in dollars (average spend for an AIB is close to $300). The AIB shipment volume comes from the performance and mainstream segments. GPU compute is adding to sales on the high end. The workstation market is smaller in unit sales than the enthusiast segment but characterized by even higher average selling prices (average spend for an AIB is $415).

For the year, the AIB market is expected to hit $13.8 billion, down 33 percent from 2010 due to a pullback by consumers and a gradual decline in ASP.

The JPR AIB report, which costs $995, covers seven regions and reports on the value of AIB sales and units in those regions.

Wacom Launches Cintiq 24HD for Creative Pros

Wacom has rolled out the all-new Cintiq 24HD interactive pen display, engineered to meet the high demands of designers, illustrators, animators, video editors, and other creatives.

The new 24-inch HD (1920 x1200) widescreen display provides realistic color for color-critical work. The ergonomically designed counter-weighted stand allows users to adjust the incline and height of the Cintiq for multiple working postures, even allowing the display to extend over the edge of the desk and fl oat just above a user’s lap. Furthermore, the frame around the screen is designed to be a resting place for the hands and arms, providing easy access to the Touch Ring and shortcut and modifi er Express Keys located on both sides of the tablet.

The device touts 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and 40 degrees of tilt control. The pen offers nearzero (one gram) starting pressure and virtually the same natural feel and feedback a user would experience when working with traditional brushes or pens. Additionally, the new Cintiq 24HD delivers a wide color gamut, appealing for photography and design professionals who demand accurate and spectacular color representation when drawing or editing with the Cintiq pen. (It is compatible with popular colorcalibration devices.)

The Cintiq 24HD is priced at $2499.

HP Expands Display Portfolio

HP has added powerful and affordable displays for creative professionals and retail businesses to its portfolio, including the company’s fi rst 27-inch diagonal performance display with more than one billion colors, the industry’s fi rst sub-$200 display with in-plane switching (IPS) technology, and HP’s fi rst 47-inch diagonal multitouch Digital Signage Display.

The HP ZR2740w, ZR2440w,ZR2240w, and ZR2040w performance displays feature LED backlit IPS panels and deliver performance for professionals who value exceptional image accuracy. The HP Compaq LE2202x Essential Display is for businesses that need affordable display technology in a thin profi le with a small footprint. The HP LD4220tm and HP LD4720tm Digital Signage Displays allow customers to interact with business messages in a simple yet powerful way.

The four new HP ZR-series Performance Displays are aimed at professionals in animation, game development, broadcast, CAD, design, and graphic arts, where performance and visual quality are imperative. Customers can choose from a range of sizes—20-, 21.5-, 24-, and 27-inch diagonal screens—and resolutions ranging from 1600x900 to 2560x1440. Pricing for the HP ZR2040w, ZR2240w,
ZR2440w, and ZR2740w start at $189, $289, $425, and $729, respectively. Pricing for the HP Compaq LE2202x starts at $179.

CGW Announces SIGGRAPH 2011 Silver Edge Awards

SIGGRAPH 2011 welcomed nearly 16,000 artists, research scientists, gaming experts and developers, filmmakers, students, and academics from 74 countries around the globe to Vancouver, British Columbia.  As always, the focus of SIGGRAPH was on information, delivered through various talks, sessions, panels, papers, presentations, and more.  On the vendor side, more than 150 industry organizations exhibited at the conference, representing 17 countries—with approximately half from outside the US.

“It was both an inspirational and incredibly fulfilling week,” says Peter Braccio, SIGGRAPH 2011 conference chair from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “Vancouver was an awesome home for SIGGRAPH, and people are leaving with a renewed sense of passion and motivation in both their professional and personal lives. Vancouver delivered on its reputation as a world-class city.”

As expected, there were a number of impressive technologies at the show, so selecting the CGW Silver Edge Award winners was certainly challenging. Yet, there were some offerings that stood out from the rest as having the potential of greatly impacting our industry now and in the future.

Nvidia’s Project Monterey. The Quadro Virtual Graphics Technology, also known as Project Monterey, is not a product per se. It is a high-performance solution that moves the Quadro graphics card from the desktop to a remote server, allowing a user to take advantage of a Quadro graphics card via a network connection, essentially boosting the resources available to that user. Simply put, it lets users take advantage of cloud-like resources (Quadros) for visualization and rendering. Product or not, this solution definitely deserves applause.

Sony Pictures Imageworks’/Lucasfilm’s Alembic 1.0. There’s nothing like top studios sharing their technology, either among one another or with a software vendor that can take the technology and continue to develop it. Alembic is an open-source CG exchange format jointly developed at Sony and Lucasfilm for efficiently storing and sharing animation and VFX scenes across various software applications. In a nutshell, it handles massive animation data, distilling complex animation scenes—even those that are created with proprietary software—so they can be shared among various facilities. The tool fits within existing pipelines but can be customized.

Maxon’s Cinema 4D Release 13. As Maxon celebrates its 25th birthday, it is apparent that it has focused on Cinema 4D, packing the new release with a bunch of new character tools. But perhaps most impressive is the integrated stereo workflow capabilities, as well as the physically accurate rendering for generating photorealistic imagery. Based on real camera properties, the new render engine accurately calculates 3D motion blur, depth of field, and lens distortion based on the focal length, aperture, and shutter speed of the camera.

Optis’s Theia RT. Theia is a true physically correct real-time renderer, perhaps the first on the market, enabling engineers and designers to drag and drop physically correct materials and light sources to achieve immediate photorealistic representations within any environment and within any lighting scenario. The technology takes into account human vision, ensuring that results correlate exactly to the way the human eye perceives an object.

IKinema’s animation plug-in. IKinema’s animation plug-in for Maya streams (in real time) and records motion-captured data from Vicon and Xsens systems directly into Autodesk’s Maya. The product turns any skeleton into a complex and full-featured rig in minutes.

Tandent Vision Science’s Trillien. Tandent Vision Science introduced a beta version of its Trillien software, which automatically separates illumination from an image and removes shadows. The company purports to have spent 60 “person years” of R&D and has numerous patents issued and pending on its technology, which is inspired by new insights about illumination perception from the company’s human vision lab. The tech, which is in beta, operates between image capture and existing computer vision systems, factoring a single image from a standard digital camera into two images: one representing invariant surfaces and the other representing the spatial and spectral variation in scene lighting. Trillien then replaces normal input images with these preprocessed images.

Pixologic’s ZBrush 4R2. Even though this is a new release, not a new version, it generated show buzz nevertheless. (It will also be a free upgrade to registered users.) For years, the ZBrush digital sculpting tool has been in a category all its own. The new ZBrush 4R2 contains a number of new features and enhancements, including an improved BPR renderer that has been updated to full 32-bit floating-point HDR, enabling users to render high-quality images while utilizing improved materials, lights, and environment mapping. The new LightCap/MatCap designer lets users capture and apply light directly to the environment, enabling the model to fit naturally into an HDR background.  

Smith Micro’s Poser 9/Poser Pro 2012. While the software is nowhere as robust as other modeling software, it is unique in that it enables all artists (novices and professionals alike) to create gorgeous models extremely quickly for a wide range of uses—whether for personal or professional projects. The new releases feature subsurface scattering, rendering improvements, weight-map rigging support, a vertex weight map editing tool suite, and a real-time OpenGL scene preview, and more—at an affordable price.

Vicon’s Mobile Motion Capture. Deemed “a future” technology, the Mobile Motion Capture (Mobile Mocap) integrates numerous technologies, including a new, very small but powerful lipstick-sized camera for capturing 720p footage at 60 fps. A powerful processing unit synchronizes, stores, and wirelessly transmits the data, all in a tiny wearable design. A head-mounted camera device captures the nuances and contours of facial activity for signature performances applied to digital imagery. Combined, these technologies enable new ways to unobtrusively capture highly accurate performance and movement data while eliminating the restrictions and confinements of a motion-capture stage.

Nvidia’s Project Maximus. While not really a brand-new offering, Maximus is more like integrating two current technologies into one, with the end result being multi-GPU computing for the masses. Maximus, which will be offered on workstations, mates a Quadro 6000 graphics card with a Tesla GPU. Think of it like right-brain/left-brain functionality: Graphics and modeling processes will be tasked to the Quadro graphics card, while final rendering and animation (compute) tasks will be handled by the Tesla GPU. The end result: less time needed to render scenes, allowing for faster turnaround times and higher-quality production.