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Nvidia to acquire ray tracing startup

Render bender

MSI NX8600GTS-T2D256E-HD-OC graphics card

Nvidia in the past has jeered Intel's heavy investments in ray tracing as a successor of rasterization for graphics rendering — but it's always stopped short of dismissing the technology completely.

That logically led many to assume Nvidia was developing its own ray tracing technology on the side. As it turns out, those bets were pretty well placed.

Nvidia will soon announce its acquisition of a ray tracing startup called RayScale. The firm is spun from the University of Utah, and will help Nvidia develop a mergence of ray tracing with traditional rasterization techniques.

"I don't believe in ray tracing versus rasterization," said Nvidia's CTO David Kirk during a reporters' preview of the acquisition yesterday. "I believe in ray tracing with rasterization."

According to Kirk, while ray tracing today is neither appropriate nor cost-effective for all graphics rendering, it beats rasterization for certain effects such as accurate reflections and indirect lighting. And it's gangbusters at making cars look shiny.

In fact, RayScale's proof-of-concept graphic at the pre-announcement was an intensely shiny CG car in front of an Nvidia jet.

However, Nvidia believes that because ray tracing is so resource-intensive, for the time being it's better utilized as a crutch for rasterization and other techniques rather than as a replacement.

"The people with the horsepower for ray tracing are making movies," said Kirk. "So you'd think if it was the best, they would be using ray tracing exclusively."

Kirk said movie studios today instead use a grab-bag of rendering techniques like rasterization, ray tracing, and radiosity.

It will still be some time before we start seeing games using ray tracing and rasterization, according to Kirk.

"We're not at the point where CPUs and GPUs can trace enough rays with ray tracing," said Kirk. "It will be the art of choosing carefully where to use the rays."

Further details on the acquisition — including the price tag aren't available quite yet. Look for an official announcement from Nvidia in the coming days or weeks. ®

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