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At SIGGRAPH we met with Aljosha Demeulemeester, CEO of Graphine. He spoke about his company’s product Granite – a middleware solution focused on texture data that has plugins for Unity and Unreal. He also went into Granite’s specific uses for games, the importance of high-quality VR experiences, and the future of VR.
Graphine is a middleware company, so we have a focus on technology in the video game industry. We’re a real-time renderer and we have been founded for two years. We actually have an academic background, the founding team has their PhDs in this field.
What we’re offering is Granite, a middleware solution that is focused entirely on texture data. So it performs virtual texturing and texture streaming. It allows you to use an unlimited amount of texture data in a real-time virtual environment with very little memory usage and without any loading times.
If you would look at not using Granite, and if you would add more objects in a virtual environment, you’ll see that memory will constantly keep on rising up to a point where you run out of video memory. Also, loading times would increase because when you start the application or when you enter a specific area, all that data needs to be loaded.
With our system, we call it a fine-grained streaming system, we divide up all the texture data into very small pieces. We’re analyzing every frame to see which of those pieces are actually visible and only those pieces are loaded just in time. So we spend a lot of time optimizing it so it’s super fast, and because we’re progressively loading this, it basically removes any limitations on the amount of texture data that you can use.
Granite for Games
This is really interesting for games because they don’t need to spend a lot of time optimizing or downscaling, trying to figure out where they hit performance bottlenecks. It’s also very interesting for VFX companies. A lot of those companies are looking into virtual reality, so they’re entering this real-time space, but it’s very challenging. On one hand, they’re used to handling these very high-quality models, but on the other hand, they’re targeting virtual reality which is super real-time (90 FPS) and really challenging. We see that some companies take their content, spending a lot of time downscaling it and with our technology they can just import it immediately into Unreal Engine, Unity, or any other engine and have the full quality (on the texture side at least) that they were used to like they were using offline.
We have a couple of interesting demos here where our customers have scanned entire environments, and they’re actually using the baked-in lighting (the lighting at the time of scanning) in the environment. There’s no dynamic lighting, so you can hit these super high frame rates in virtual reality and still have this real-world, almost photorealistic environment and graphics.
At SIGGRAPH we’re showing off what we have for the graphics community. So that would be our latest Unreal Plugin, our latest Unity Plugin, and our Android version as well (which is targeted at The Gear). The Android version is not production ready yet, but in a couple of months we will get there and you’ll be able to have almost photorealistic graphics on a tablet, and hopefully in a couple of months on The Gear at the right frame rate as well.
We’re showing off a demo by one of our customers Nurulize. Nurulize is a virtual reality software developer. They built a demo called RISE. It started as a short movie by David Karlak, and they wanted to use that VFX content and bring that into a virtual environment. That was really challenging because they have really high-quality assets and they’re using our technology for that. We’re showcasing the RISE demo in a 2D screen and in virtual reality with the Oculus headset.
Granite Mines is another demo we’re showing. It’s where you have more of your typical 4k/2k textures, that are sometimes reused throughout the scene. We’re also giving some live demos of the Unreal Plugin.
Future of Graphine
What we want is to enable super high-quality and highly realistic virtual reality experiences. We’re very dedicated to VR. It’s a passion for most people in our industry that want to see this happen. It’s also very relevant for us because with VR you have these really high-resolution screens and you have the tendency to get really close to objects so there needs to be a lot of detailed texture content that’s really sharp to have a really believable environment. We’re really dedicated to make this happen at the right frame rate, so we’re supporting our customers there. In one year we want to have many of the most high-end VR applications running with Granite. We just want to amaze people with what you can do with modern hardware.
We’re trying to do our part to make sure graphics can be there without needing too much processing power to have a smooth experience and we’re looking forward to collaborating with any company that is focused on creating immersive experiences.
Future of VR
With the latest head-mounted devices you have a feeling that something is really going to happen in the experience and that it’s something real. There’s still a long way to go, such as with the screen resolution, it needs to increase significantly.
The head tracking is getting really good so that’s really nice. It’s really challenging for the software to hit those 90 frames per second. There’s a lot of work still for the hardware renderers. I have no doubt that they will keep on releasing more powerful machines that may be more dedicated to stereo rendering, where in the hardware there will be more acceleration instead of rendering to the left eye and right eye.
I have a feeling in the next coming years we will have a really compelling new medium to tell stories on. However, for games we will need to develop a whole new type of game that will work in VR, and for storytelling there’s a lot of challenges with telling the story, but a lot of people are working on it so the new game forms and storytelling forms will evolve and we’ll get to a completely new way to doing things.