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Computer graphics is where all the elements of computer meet the user
Jon Peddie
NOV 19, 2015 13:32 PM
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Computer graphics is where all the elements of computer meet the user

by Jon Peddie

This is the inaugural post of what I hope will be an interesting series on things that make good use of pixels. Things like game consoles, workstations, smartphones, PCs, supercomputers, tablets, arcades, CAVEs, VR headsets, smart glasses, and maybe even watches, as wells as the glue that makes them works such as APIs, libraries, and interfaces like DisplayPort and HDMI. I’ll also weave into it historical background when it seems appropriate.

As a lifetime senior member of the IEEE, being accepted into the organization in 1962, it is a great honor for me to be able to continue to contribute content of interest to members worldwide. Hopefully some of you will comment and let me how you like it and what I might add that would be most interesting to you.

Over the course of my career I’ve developed some axioms, I’d like to call them laws but I don’t think I can get away with that. My first (1981), and the one I like a lot is: In computer Graphics, too much is not enough. The goal of CG is get the viewer to suspend disbelief and allow him or herself to get immersed, to not just watch a movie but be in it. A good game or VR experience will do that for you. A great one you won’t want to leave. But it comes at a price, lots and lots of TFLOPS, from multiple heterogeneous processors, tightly coupled high-speed memory, and super high resolution display with a wide field of view. We’re not there yet, and we won’t be for a long time, but boy-oh-boy is the journey fun and getting better every year.

I mark the beginning of CG with SAGE developed as a terminal in an early warning missile defense system in the 1950s.

From there we have followed Moore’s law since the 1960s allowing us to make faster, denser, smaller, and less expensive computers every year.

CG was primarily a scientific tool, used by a few, and very expensive. When consumers got their first taste of CG it lit up imaginations, created demand, and drove down costs. It’s fair to say that the explosion of high-quality, high-performance computer games in the late 1990s did more for the advancement of CG than any other use of graphics. National defense may have created it, design and CAD have made use of it, and the entertainment industry made it a religion, but it was gaming that propelled and accelerated it. Gaming gave graphics to the masses.

In 1992 id software released the revolutionary Wolfenstien 3D, and we thought we lived in the most amazing times.

Wolfenstein 3D circa 1992 (Wikipedia)

Look how far we have come.

Lara Croft from 1996. In 1996 the best the industry could do was an image of 100,000 triangles, 30 times a second, on a 1024 x 768 screen (Eidos Interactive)

As processing power went up, and new rendering software techniques were developed, the images got better and better.

Lara Croft from 2013. By 2013 it was possible to generate over a 100 million triangles (also referred to as polygons) at 60 to 120 times a second on screens greater than HD (Courtesy Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix)

We’re still progressing, driving toward the holy grail of the ultimate immersive experience, the Holodeck.

Spock's Court Martial on holodeck by Richard67915, Deviant

A lot goes into creating beautiful pixels, math, art, computers, semiconductor technology, graphics controllers, displays, and applications and middleware. All of those areas developed at different rates, sometimes because of something discovered, or realized in an adjacent segment. There wasn’t a linear path, and therefore pixel chasing will take us all over the map. It will be a fun expedition and I hope you will join me.




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