Siggraph 2010 #1: promises, promises

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Nvidia’s new 3D Vision Pro, one of the many new 3D technologies on show

The show floor opened Tuesday in Los Angeles for SIGGRAPH 2010, the 37th edition of the conference and exposition that sets the stage for where computer graphics technology is going to take us. And although a few splashy demos were on display, there was little in the way of concrete product introductions to set hearts racing for CAD/CAM/CAE professionals.

Siggraph is the place where we first hear about exciting developments that make their way into the CAD/CAM world: 3D graphics; solid modelling; real-time rendering and ray tracing; textures, shadows and image mapping; and graphics processing units (GPUs) as stand-ins or maybe even superior alternatives to central processing units (CPUs).

Over the years, the Siggraph exposition has migrated from a general computer graphics event that included CAD/CAM and workstation vendors to one geared to the entertainment business. It’s an atmosphere of hope and sometimes desperation, a bit like a sports camp: A few of the prospective technologies on display are potential breakthroughs, but many will never quite find a lucrative application.

Will 3D stereo, for example, be a star or a bust in the mainstream product development world? As could be expected, the aftereffects of “Avatar” and “Toy Story 3” are in full force at Siggraph 2010. There are several alternatives to 3D stereoscopic displays on hand – some standalone, but most requiring glasses. One company is offering a full line of hip designer 3D glasses, rather appropriate for a show held within a few miles of Hollywood.

Nvidia, the 3D graphics card maker, is on the bandwagon, announcing 3D Vision Pro, a new 3D stereoscopic environment for the desktop with support for LCD panels and large-scale displays such as video walls and collaborative virtual environments (CAVEs).

The other announcements at Siggraph that impact product developers fall primarily into the “we’re faster than you” variety.

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Nvidia is heralding Quadro GPUs based on its new Fermi architecture as launching the era of the “computational visualisation workstation.”

AMD is touting its soon-to-be-released ATI FirePro beta driver that the company expects to “deliver considerable performance gains” for popular CAD applications.

Hardcore Computer, maker of the Reactor X PC, brags of “relentless performance through liquid immersion.” The only performance numbers presented, however, are from the Cinebench benchmark, which bears little relation to performance in a CAD application environment.

As usual, Siggraph is a land of promises, with a bit of fairy dust thrown in. Time will tell which dreams come true.

Bob Cramblitt is a guest blogger on DEVELOP3D. He reports on CAD/CAM/CAE technologies that impact product development. He’s been attending Siggraph since he was a mere youth, beginning in 1983.