New 3D ray tracing PowerVR GPU likely to bring advanced photorealistic 3D to iPhones, iPads & Apple

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Imagination Technologies, the developer of the PowerVR graphics processing cores that drive Apple's A-series processors used in iOS devices, has demonstrated a new mobile engine at CES with the ability to perform realtime ray traced 3D graphics rendering, likely destined to appear in Apple's future products.



PowerVR GR6500 architecture Source: Imagination Technologies


In a announcement at CES, the company noted that "the ray tracing hardware in the GR6500 opens the door to many advanced graphics algorithms that have previously been out of reach on all but highest end desktop GPUs consuming hundreds of watts."

The new architecture (depicted above) was first outlined in 2014. The company is now demonstrating an implementation in silicon "working in full speed."



The firm also noted that "The GR6500 GPU allows every part of the hybrid Unity game engine to run concurrently on the same GPU.?Both the raster and ray tracing passes are executed simultaneously and data flows efficiently through the rendering pipeline keeping costly context switches and power hungry memory traffic to an absolute minimum."


Traditional, rasterized-only rendering cannot model light transport accurately


Compared to conventional 3D rendering (above) that builds elements in a scene as a series of shapes, ray tracing technology enables a graphics processor to calculate the particle physics of lighting sources and their reflections illuminating a scene and casting shadows (below), transforming a basic computer 3D rendering into a photorealistic image.


PowerVR Ray Tracing offers ultra-realistic shadows, reflections and transparency at no extra cost


Ray tracing can greatly simplify the process of creating a realistic 3D scene by doing the heavy lifting of calculating how objects of different materials would look. However, the amount of processing power required to calculate the billion rays per second calculations required to perform fluid, ray traced 3D has typically necessitated powerful workstations.

Being able to perform this on a mobile devices is an emerging breakthrough, particularly given the interest in Virtual Realty and Augmented Reality. Imagination says its existing PowerVR GR6500 chip "die size, GFLOPS performance, bandwidth requirements and power consumption mean that it is comparable to the GPUs already available in smart phones today,"

The company also says its PowerVR Ray Tracing technology "is fundamentally scalable and the efficiency actually increases as we move to more and more powerful cores."

While Apple doesn't typically comment on its future roadmap, it has centered its A-series chips around the PowerVR graphics it has been using in iOS devices since the iPhone first appeared. The iPhone's GPU-accelerated user interface was a major part of its jaw dropping introduction and epic launch in 2007.

Other smartphone platforms, including Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile, failed to recognize the value of a GPU-enhanced user experience for years, setting Apple's products apart while the competition delivered a stuttering, laggy UI.

Apple continued to make the GPU a prominent part of its iPhone and later iPad introductions, aggressively adopting new graphics technologies as they emerged. Apple also purchased a 3 percent stake in Imagination Technologies in 2008, increasing its share to 9.5 percent the following year.

In 2011, Imagination began licensing its new PowerVR Series6 "Rogue" architecture, which Apple adopted in its 2013 A7 and used as the architectural platform for its Metal graphics framework and shader language.

The pace of Apple's CPU and GPU development have since accelerated, meaning that it potentially could adopt Imagination's latest technology for iPhone 7 and make ray tracing a core feature in iOS and upcoming iPads and Apple TV.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 8
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,114moderator
    Perhaps Apple should buy Imagination Technologies.  Lock-up this technology for itself.  Unless there are other companies making comparable technology, in which case it makes sense to leave them independent and let competition be the driving force behind their advancements.  Competition tends to keep companies on their toes.
  • Reply 2 of 8
    Perhaps Apple should buy Imagination Technologies.  Lock-up this technology for itself.  Unless there are other companies making comparable technology, in which case it makes sense to leave them independent and let competition be the driving force behind their advancements.  Competition tends to keep companies on their toes.
    Anti-trust issues is probably what is preventing such a move.
  • Reply 3 of 8
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,361member
    But what does this have to do with the stock price I don't get it...
  • Reply 4 of 8
    19831983 Posts: 1,184member
    I really hope this new GPU gets incorporated into the upcoming iPhone 7.
  • Reply 5 of 8
    noivadnoivad Posts: 186member
    Perhaps Apple should buy Imagination Technologies.  Lock-up this technology for itself.  Unless there are other companies making comparable technology, in which case it makes sense to leave them independent and let competition be the driving force behind their advancements.  Competition tends to keep companies on their toes.
    Anti-trust issues is probably what is preventing such a move.
    Anti-trust usually involves either using one’s market leverage with other companies to force competition out of the same market, such as MS did with requiring Windows licensees to only offer machines with Windows in order to get to license it it for pre-installation, or having a monopoly on a market. Just because PowerVR is the only company to offer ray tracing mobile graphics processors does not mean it’d be a monopoly because there are other mobile graphics available (just not of the same quality). Apple could buy the company and not have a mobile graphics monopoly, as well. So no Anti-trust there. So far there’s no evidence of Apple of forcing PowerVR to do anything and the arrangement seems to be working to both company’s advantage without interfering in PowerVR’s nor other manufacturer’s operations unfairly. Apple & PowerVR could even sign an exclusive contract for their GR6500 chipset, and that would be legal too. (Companies do that all the time with close partners to ensure access to better technology & a stead stream of revenue for the smaller company.) Exclusive contracts have been precursors to acquisition, but only if the company continues to outperform (or convince the larger company that they will outperform the competition). I for one, am a bit excited about the prospect of low power (low heat) workstation class graphics coming in small power-friendly form. It sounds like a cluster of 4 PowerVR6500 cores could outperform builtin in laptop graphics at a lower power draw, but I haven’t looked up the specs for this yet. If so, it might be an inexpensive way to beef up portable graphics power and put Macs on par with Windows Gaming Laptops which have made most Macs look wimpy in comparison. Unfortunately, Apple has never pursued graphics performance on par with gaming machines in a vast majority of their machines, and instead mostly gone either mediocre at best to pro level graphic costing a small fortune. So, they will probably just throw these in their iOS devices instead of OS X machines.
  • Reply 6 of 8
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,419member
    Realtime ray tracing, that's impressive.
  • Reply 7 of 8
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    Perhaps Apple should buy Imagination Technologies.  Lock-up this technology for itself.  Unless there are other companies making comparable technology, in which case it makes sense to leave them independent and let competition be the driving force behind their advancements.  Competition tends to keep companies on their toes.
    Anti-trust issues is probably what is preventing such a move.
    At one time Intel owned between 10 & 15% of imagination plus there are a few other big players involved. It wouldn't be easy for Apple to buy imagination with all the other deep pockets investors involved. At this point Apple owns 10% of the company, that is enough to have some control.
  • Reply 8 of 8
    ksecksec Posts: 1,566member
    PowerVR has already patent this Ray Tracing tech. So it is much better for them to license this to other GPU makers. And Intel no longer own any shares in PowerVR.
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