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Real-time ray-tracing on the PlayStation 3! [update 1]

This is one of those moments where the hardware does the talking and not the software. The video above contains some real-time ray-tracing, where three PS3's "render a model that is 75x more complex then those used in today's games. Ray-tracing is the rendering technique used by the film industry and is considered to complex for today's game systems."

What's more impressive about the video is that the RSX graphics chip wasn't even touched -- the cell processor is creating all of what you see, even calculating where shadows should land given a certain style of lighting. If one Cell SPE (hmm... see the update) can create what you see there, with calculated light and shadows run in real-time, imagine what eight of them could do in addition to the RSX graphics chip. We really need someone to start making the PS3 game now so it can be done in eight years or so.

[Update: Apparently Linux limits the use of SPE's to a total of 6, so the three PS3's "duct-taped together" are utilizing 6 SPE's, not one as incorrectly gleaned initially!]

[Thanks Truespeed and Colin!]

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Reader Comments

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1. That demo looked laggy and that would make sense, Sony failed to put graphics on the Cell processor which is why they had to approach Nvidia at the last minute to make the RSX. had the creators of this clip been able to do this using the PS3's RSX instead it would have been a lot better but i think the RSX is locked out in linux. also doing ray-tracing with 4x anti-aliasing is really nothing to write home about, your still gonna get a lot of jaggies.

still i have to say it looks like they put in a lot of work and hats off to them. it would be interesting to see proprietary graphics rendering clients ( Bryce, Maya, etx...) that allow network rendering using PS3's linux as a server farm.

someone should try out Blender on the PS3, its the linux opensource 3d modeling/rendering app and i think supports network rendering.

Posted at 10:56AM on Apr 5th 2007 by WTangoFoxtrot

2. It is to bad that how impressive this is is going to go over 99% of the heads out there (though surprisingly the first commenter seems to be in the 1%!)

Posted at 11:09AM on Apr 5th 2007 by Colin

3. Does he have a hole in his teeth? He whistles when ever he talks like dan rather. Cool stuff tho

Posted at 11:22AM on Apr 5th 2007 by Chris

4. Although impressive, this is being run on 3 PS3's. Nick, you make it sound like it's all running on a single SPE:

"If one Cell SPE can create what you see there, with calculated light and shadows run in real-time, imagine what eight of them could do in addition to the RSX graphics chip."

Posted at 11:24AM on Apr 5th 2007 by Dolla Dolla

5. They said they are using all 3 PS3s, so 18 SPEs combined, not just one to run the demo. Just a heads up.

Pretty awesome video, too bad we won't see ray-tracing in games till the PS5; though Crysis looks jaw-dropping without it.

Posted at 11:36AM on Apr 5th 2007 by TSD

6. I personally think the most exciting thing about this is that the Cell is being used for graphics, which means, at least in my head, that in the future as developers become more familiar with the hardware and how to best utilize it, it could easily be used to further the graphics beyond what the RSX can produce on it's own. Or am I just talking crazy right now?

Posted at 12:00PM on Apr 5th 2007 by mccomber

7. @1
Nvidia stated back in 2003 that they were working with Sony to provide the Grafix chip for the PS3. I am sure if you look hard enough you could find something about it on the internet(s)...just might have to ask Dubya which internet is the best one.
Nvidia and Microsoft also said back in early 2003 that ATI would provide the grafix chip for project Xenon.
Nvidia had not made much $ from their colaboration with Microsoft on the original XBOX and thus being the main reason for jumping ship to Sony.
Please....not just @ #1....stop saying that the chip was a "last minute" desparation effort.
One of the most common complaints from developers about the PS2 was that it had no dedicated grafix chip.
That is the main reason that Sony teamed up with Nvidia
Got it now nuttchuggers?

Posted at 12:04PM on Apr 5th 2007 by George McFly

8. actually I remember reading a article in a games magazine that nvidia would produce the RSX for the PS3. This was back in 2001-2002 or something. Literally a few months after the PS2 was released.

But this really is amazing. Considering You get a total of 6 SPE's to work with (1 is disabled to improve yields of the cell and the other handles OS stuff).

I would really like to know the details of this project. raytracing a 720P picture with 4X multisampling is REALLY hardwork.

*respect to makers*

Posted at 12:17PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Maurice


"NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang stated during Sony's pre-show press conference at E3 2005 that the RSX will be more powerful than two GeForce 6800 Ultra video cards combined."

Last minute?

Posted at 12:20PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Noshino

10. Google News has this fun thing called ARCHIVE. The following link brings you to articles from 2003 discussing NVIDIA and Sony working on the PS3.

Posted at 12:33PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Colin

I think a lot of people commenting are missing the point of this demo. This is a demonstration of REAL TIME and INTERACTIVE ray tracing. Ray tracing is an incredible computationally demanding process that takes even the most powerful desktop systems minutes to render just a SINGLE frame. These PS3's are doing it in real time and interactively and without the use of the RSX chip at all.

Posted at 12:48PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Truespeed

12. Is it actually possible to use the GPU for raytracing? Most GPU's are build around ROP's and shaders. The shaders could help with raytracing but you would need a shader that could write directly to the memory which isn't possible at the moment.

Ati did use their shaders for their [email protected] thing. Hopefully nvidia will be able to do the same on G70 hardware. If it could be done there is a chance we could see a realtime raytracer being used in games.

Posted at 1:01PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Maurice

13. Ray tracing basically means that you determine the color for every pixel by shooting a ray through it (mathmatically - not literally) when that ray hits an object in 3 space it determines the color of that object by the properties of the object itself and by bouncing that ray off of the object and repeating the process. Often times the ray will hit an object and create multiple new rays depending on the properties of the object. For example if the object is made of glass then a reflective ray will be generated as will a ray representing the light that is let through the glass. The process is recursive, meaning that you can keep bouncing rays off of objects till your hearts content. The process is very computationally expensive.
What we are seeing here is a single object rendered by ray tracing by 3 PS3s. This is a long way away from having a ray tracing engine which can handle complicated scenes in real time.
What is impressive about this is the potential. Since Cell processors are starting to be manufactured en masse, what is to stop SONY from creating a next-generation PS with 50 cells in its next box? We have effectively reached the limit of the computational power that we can achieve on a single processor - distributed computing is the way that we will achieve performance in the future.

Posted at 1:59PM on Apr 5th 2007 by tom

14. @10

The Playstation 2 had the Graphics Synthesizer. You probably can't have known that since you spell graphics like a retard.

Posted at 2:38PM on Apr 5th 2007 by SDF-1

15. Does the PS3 actually have a gigabit Ethernet controller, if now how is it connected to the network.

Posted at 3:27PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Question

16. About the number of SPE's in PS3, and the number of SPE's that can be used in Linux:

- Each PS3 has 8 physical SPE's.

- 1 of these 8 physical SPE's is always disabled. This is specific to PS3. It allows Sony to use Cell processors with only 7 working SPE's instead of throwing them away. Before anyone cries that Sony is cheap, note that graphics chip manufacturers use the same strategy to increase yields.

- 1 of the 7 active SPE's in PS3 is "isolated". It is reserved for security stuff and cannot be used, at least by non-licensed Linux developers. This is also specific to PS3. I have never used a Sony dev kit, so I don't know if licensed developers have a way of accessing the 7th SPE.

- This leaves 6 useable SPE's for each PS3.

- PS3 is not the only system using the Cell processor and, generally speaking, there is no limit on the number of SPE's that you can use in Linux. On an IBM QS20 server (which includes two Cell processors) you can use all 16 SPE's. If you have a cluster of N PS3's, you can use Nx6 SPE's.

Posted at 5:00PM on Apr 5th 2007 by drivendriver

17. The PS3 has a gigabit network connection

Posted at 6:24PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Maurice

18. PS3 is not doing the rendering. From

Even though the PS3’s RSX is inaccessible under Linux the smart little system will reach out across the network and leverage multiple IBM QS20 blades to render the complex model, in real-time, with software based ray-tracing. Using IBM’s scalable iRT rendering technology, the PS3 is able to decompose each frame into manageable work regions and dynamically distribute them to blades or other PS3s for rendering.

Sorry to rain on everyone's Sony loving parade, but IBM Blade servers are doing the rendering while the PS3 feeds it data to render.

Posted at 6:39PM on Apr 5th 2007 by Me me

19. could this be one of the projects for the IBM contest?

Posted at 6:49PM on Apr 5th 2007 by naruto007

20. @21 -> You are citing a completely different demonstration. That GDC Cell demonstration did use IBM blades, and probably a lot more of them. But this video highlights what is possible with just three PS3s (only a high-polygon sports car).

Posted at 7:17PM on Apr 5th 2007 by lucidcoder

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