The present and future of raytracing

New display capabilities and ever-increasing processing power keep this technology on the cutting edge.  

By Jon Peddie

More papers, patents and Ph.D.’s have been written and awarded on raytracing than any other computer graphic technique.

Because raytracing is so important—and at the same time computationally burdensome—individuals and organizations have spent years and millions of dollars trying to speed things up. A typical raytraced scene on an old-fashioned HD screen can tax a CPU so heavily the image can only be upgraded maybe every second or two; certainly not the 33ms needed for realtime rendering.

An example of different materials being applied to the same object for raytracing. (Source: Nvidia)
An example of different materials being applied to the same object for raytracing. (Source: Nvidia)

GPUs can’t help much because one of the characteristics of raytracing is it has no memory and every frame is a new frame, so the computational load is immutable. Also, the branching that occurs in raytracing defeats the power of a GPU’s SIMD architecture.

Raytracing is a subset of the rendering market. The rendering market is a subset of software for larger markets, including media and entertainment (M&E), architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), computer-aided design (CAD), scientific, entertainment content creation and simulation-visualization. Not all users who have rendering capabilities in their products use it. At the same time there are products that have been developed solely as rendering tools and there are products that include 3D modeling, animation and rendering capabilities, and they may be used primarily for rendering, primarily for modeling or primarily for animation.

For more of Dr. Jon Peddie’s overview of raytracing today and tomorrow, read the full article at Randi Altman’s PostPerspective.