nVision 08: Jen-Hsun Huang Keynote

nVidia co-founder, President, and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang talks visual computing.

nVidia CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, was at hand to officially open nVision 08, unlike Intel’s Paul Otellini. Catering perhaps to the more general-invite, open to all nature of nVision, Huang’s keynote was very broad-ranging; you could almost be forgiven for forgetting nVidia is primarily a GPU company.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of interesting technology shown off, though. The keynote’s focus was very much on visual computing as a whole, but it wouldn’t be an nVidia event if graphics cards weren’t talked about, at least a little.

The impression that Huang has given is that nVision is very much about visual computing as a whole, not nVidia as a company. We’ve heard from a lot of the nVidia staff that the intention eventually would be to have Intel and AMD along too – a rebranding of the event might be necessary before that happens, though.

Back to Huang’s keynote, though, and the demonstrations were all stuff we’ve seen before, but that’s nonetheless still interesting – especially with Huang’s ever-obvious passion for his company and industry. Huang started off talking figures for a bit, not before telling us that “we’re on the cusp of a display revolution“. More on which later!

Huang took the opportunity to remind us all how important computer graphics have become. Using cinema as an example, he pointed out that of the ten highest grossing films this year (so far), all except Sex and the City wouldn’t have been possible without computer graphics. Iron Man and Narnia, especially, are great examples of that fact.

CUDA – I’ve talked about this before haven’t I? – was next on Huang’s agenda, and it’s the same story we’ve heard for a while now; hey guys, GPUs are great for graphics but really powerful for compute tasks, too. Folding@Home, as ever, was a great example with some 24,000 nVidia CUDA-capable GPUs are currently out there churning out 1.4 petaflops of folding power, in comparison to around 2.6 million CPUs providing 288 teraflops computing – good for nVidia’s willy waving, good for Alzeimer’s and cancer sufferers.

Having got his fairly short nVidia-specific spiel out of the way, Huang then invited a chap called Peter Stevensen, COO of a company called Real-time Technology (RTT), onto the stage to talk about Lambos – or at least one in particular. RTT is involved in providing CAD modelling solutions for various manufacturers, one of which was Lamborgini.

When a particular $1.5 million limited run of 20 cars was announced, RTT used a custom, hybrid ray-tracing and rasterisation rendering engine (which runs in realtime, at an unspecified resolution and only until you get anywhere with any intense detail) which they sent out to showrooms to demonstrate how the car would look to potential customers who couldn’t see the finished article.

Futher to that Stevensen pointed out that these acurate graphical models allow designers to change their development process. If you want to change the style of the front grill, for example,you simple plug those details into the program and you can see what that looks like. In the (s)good(/s) old days that kind of change would require several hours if not days for a new clay model to be put together with the changed design. Obviously the benefits are time and money saved – although unless I strike it lucky at a casino out here I don’t think I’ll be seeing he benefits of a computer-generated graphics designed Lamborgini any time soon.

On the topic of stuff we already know about, Huang did a quick overview of a program some of you may have heard of called Google Earth. There’s really no point going into to much detail – this is old news – but essentially nVidia graphics cards help speed up viewing Google Earth. Apparently there have been 400 million unique downloads, which is pretty impressive.

The next demo was something that I’ve been shown before by nVidia’s Roy Taylor, but haven’t had a chance to write about. Huang invited Taehoon Kim, the President and founder of Nurien Software, to demonstrate a game which if I recall correctly is going to be called N-Star (it wasn’t mentioned during the keynote). Supposedly this is going to be the next Facebook, although really we already have that with Second Life, to which Nurien’s game is very similar. The premise is basically social interaction, but in a 3D enviroment. The whole thing smacks of PlayStation Home, but with the benefit of actually looking like it will come to market in my lifetime – sorry Sony.

To show the kind of thing Nurien can do, Kim loaded up a pre-made virtual Jen-Hsun Huang with an obligatory nVidia medallion hung around his kneck. Nurien is using GPU-accellerated PhysX so hair, clothing and so forth are all (at least in theory) animated in a real-time and realistic manner.

The demo included virtual Huang breakdancing, whereupon the real Huang claimed that “this is all mo-cap, I do this every day” – I can’t see it personally – before launching into a Dance Dance Revolution-esque mini-game. The animation looked pretty slick and it’s the kind of game I can see myself losing a lot of time in without noticing that I am. Especially as Nurien will use a micro-transaction sales model, so the core game will be free to download and play, with additional clothes, furniture for your personal space and so on being paid for. One to watch out for in the near future.

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