RAY TRACING

Ray tracing is a computer graphics technique which creates photorealistic images by shooting light beams and tracing light rays bouncing off of surfaces.

Ray tracing is the best technique to create an accurate rendering of objects by articulating lighting effects such as reflection, refraction, transmission, shadow and global lighting that naturally occur. The algorithm lets rays trace the path of light through pixels in an image plane and simulates the effects of its encounters with virtual objects. When a ray (primary ray) encounters an object surface, three new rays (reflection, refraction, and shadow rays) are generated and the rays repeat for finding the intersection with objects.

It took about twenty more years before ray-tracing started to get used on large computer servers, due to its high computational cost, but became available on PCs in 2018 and is appearing in game consoles in 2020.

Ray Tracing Algorithm – Physical Phenomena of an Optical System

Ray Tracing of GPU Technology

Previously, only cloud servers, high-end workstations and PC’s with dedicated RT graphics cards support ray tracing today. Consumers will soon experience unprecedented interactive UI/UX playing immersive 3D games with the new home video game consoles being released this year by SONY (PS5) and Microsoft (X-Box). New graphics card entries will provide ray tracing to mainstream PCs and laptops in the future. It is the beginning of the era when our gaming and virtual worlds will have photo-realistic graphics and the market will never look back.

Ray-Tracing started to be widely used in film production since the early 2000s and is now applied in design for visualizing product prototypes, engineering the final deliverables to manufacturing and marketing just about any product, from a car to a video game. This cutting-edge technique is especially powerful when rendering complex optical phenomenon. Ray Tracing can process photo-realistic cinema-quality 3D graphics. RT technology is applied in the professional visualization markets using cloud servers (render farms), for non-real-time environments such as films and animation production. Since ray tracing simulates optics effect automatically, developers can save up to half of their content creation costs by eliminating labor-intensive texture work.

Ray Tracing GPU Pipeline
Rasterization GPU Pipeline

Rasterization of GPU VS Ray Tracing of GPU

Today’s desktop PCs as well as mobile and embedded space still utilize graphics rasterizing technology contained in their GPUs.  The rasterization approach is effective when rendering simple 3D graphics images, however it lacks natural lighting effects for photo-realism. The approach utilized has been to add artifacts using a programmable shader to make up for its photo-realistic effects. Thus, GPU rasterization becomes a more costly, time consuming and difficult approach to create exquisite 3D contents.

GPU ray tracing technology has always been considered the ultimate technology for rendering 3D graphics images. Ray tracing of GPU technology simulates optic effects automatically, resulting in high degree of visual realism. In addition, it is cost effective by up to 50% compared to Rasterization of GPU technology from content developer perspective. Render farms are were the main users of ray tracing, limiting its usage to non-real-time environments such as films and animation production. This is now expanding the release of mainstream graphics adapter cards that extend this to desktop and workstations.  The technology is now being extended into the consumer space with game consoles.  It is only a matter of time before power and cost efficient ray tracing implementations of ray tracing to drive the mobile marketplace.

Rasterized 3D graphics image

Local illumination

Ray traced 3D graphics image

Global illumination

Rasterized 3D graphics image

Local illumination

Ray traced 3D graphics image

Global illumination Hard Shadow & Soft Shadow

Ray traced 3D graphics image

Global illumination Hard Shadow & Soft Shadow

Ray Tracing: The Future of Graphics

See our white paper on how ray tracing is transforming graphics