SGI and Sony talk cubes

It could be the missing link

SGI and Sony are more likely to continue as partners than rivals, whatever Sony's plans are for its experimental multiprocessor machine, GScube. Or so says SGI.

"We don't see this as competitive," Greg Estes SGI's VP of telecomms and media tells us.

As demonstrated, GSCube is useless without some kind of big server behind it, he points out. At SIGGRAPH it was demonstrated with an SGI Origin 3000.

The GSCube is "something that delivers a lot of textures and polygons. You're not going to be able to take Maya and run it on this", he says.

Although we suggested here that the GSCube might be an SMP - it, er isn't actually symmetrical - it's 16 Playstation2 Emotion Engines on a PCI bus. In demos, the machine was deployed to experiment with techniques of screen space subdivision, in other words breaking down the screen into regions.

Sony has said the GSCube, which is an experimental unit at the moment, will result in real products by the end of the year. Likely uses for the Cube's offspring include high resolution digital cinema systems or production systems for content creators.

We Demand Video
The system can output twice the resolution of today's high definition TVs, says Estes. SGI sees Cube-like systems as the machines that distribute video on demand (VoD), or other broadband interactive content, the middle-tier if you like between the servers and the home systems.

On the other hand, he says, that kind of rendering power will likely make its way onto the high street eventually. A Playstation2, Estes points out, already has much if not all of the capabilities of a $200,000 SGI workstation of a few years ago.

Only a few years ago it was obligatory for Larry Ellison and Bill Gates to sprinkle references to VoD into their keynotes, and the idea failed to become mainstream. BT's own VoD trials were poorly received for example, and today US coach potatoes typically pick out their viewing from a program guide that selects from hundreds of fixed schedules.

In their different ways, both Bill and Larry were fixed on the serving aspect, and failed to pay enough attention to the distribution quality. Priced cheaply enough, the GSCube and the SGI alliances could be the catalyst for a new tier to the industry - which you can think of as a branch exchange. The customers could be existing customers, or ASPs, or a hybrid of the two. We'd like to see who'll bite. ®

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