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Intel forms graphics lab to make games look more real

x86 giant hopes for 'open, collaborative and forward-looking' relationship with (checks notes) Nvidia and AMD

With Intel starting to get serious about the discrete GPU market, the chipmaker has put together a research group that is pledging to improve the "entire field" of graphics, and that includes making games look even more realistic.

Intel announced Wednesday it has formed the appropriately named Graphics Research Organization within the company's Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group, and its goal is to "deliver the best immersive visuals to everybody on the planet." The news was disclosed a day after Intel promoted its top graphics executive, Raja Koduri.

The group's purview goes beyond just making better graphics for games. Intel is also setting its sights on other areas, some of which sound rather metaverse-y to us, such as "future virtual social interactions, democratized content creation and realistic visual effects," according to a blog post written by the group's director, Anton Kaplanyan.

Kaplanyan, who joined Intel's graphics business unit last year, said his group plans to work on various graphics technologies, which he pledged will benefit the entire industry.

"Our objective is to build the best possible graphics solutions, but we also want to move forward the entire field, the whole ecosystem. And we can only do that by being open, collaborative and forward-looking," he said.

Now, you may be thinking, does Intel really want to develop technologies that benefit the broader industry, including its rivals Nvidia and AMD? While we should ultimately wait and see how Intel's broader efforts play out, the company is developing a version of its Xe Super Sampling technology that can support GPUs from competitors.

Building upon ray tracing with path tracing

One of the first areas of focus for the new group is real-time path tracing, a rendering technique that can makes graphics look more realistic than what is possible with real-time ray tracing alone.

Nvidia, the dominant player in the GPU market, made real-time ray tracing in games available for a mainstream audience with its GeForce RTX GPUs that debuted in 2018. Real-time ray tracing is now also supported by AMD's latest GPUs in addition to the new ones coming from Intel.

While ray tracing aims to realistically recreate the way light interacts with objects by casting rays from many points, path tracing combines ray tracing with other techniques to simulate "the true physics of light," as Nvidia put it in a recent blog post.

Nvidia may be the furthest ahead in enabling real-time ray tracing in games, but the GPU giant admitted that real-time path tracing is still in its early days. After all, the many games that support ray tracing only have partial implementations, and there are only a few games that support path tracing currently, including Quake II and Minecraft via plugins.

In his blog post for Intel, Kaplanyan agreed there is much work to do to make path tracing more viable in games; he believes it represents the next evolution in real-time computer graphics. We could also consider it the proper next step in Kaplanyan's career, given that he previously worked on Nvidia's implementation of ray tracing as a research scientist there.

"While the visual impact of path tracing is clearly demonstrated in film, a lot of challenges remain to be solved to make it practical in real-time graphics and games," he said.

Machine learning and metaverse dreams

Kaplanyan said Intel's Graphics Research Organization also plans to expand upon the progress the company has made in using machine learning to improve graphical fidelity and performance.

These efforts started with Xe Super Sampling, an AI-based image upscaling technology the chipmaker is introducing in its first generation of Intel Arc GPUs that come out this year.

In addition, the group is turning its attention to improving the way user content is generated in 3D spaces, which sounds like one way Intel plans to partake in one of the tech world's favorite buzzwords from the last couple years, the metaverse.

If you want to dig into the kind of graphics research Intel is working on, Kaplanyan's new group has a web page set up, and it includes a list of papers the company has already published. ®

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