Nvision08 – Nvidia’s 3D Future Showcased
Nvidia’s first NVISION08 was held in San Jose’s convention center in California, very close to their headquarters in Santa Clara. Their goal was 10,000 in attendance and in the final address they stated that over 9,200 attended; later figures on Nvidia’s own site gives it as “over 8,000”. Weather was perfect for all three days of their event, generally sunny and remaining in the low-80s F for the day, which made it a pleasure to walk between the buildings that Nvidia used for their trade show. They divided their event into – partly for the general public, partly for the professional and also for the gamer. One big event highlight had over 200 hardcore gamers from all over the world set the new Guinness World Record for the longest continuous LAN party with over 100 participants. They kept gaming for 36 straight hours and it was a very nice award ceremony at the end with a lot of really cool prizes for everyone who participated; no one dropped out! Free coffee – and food – too, for the players during their marathon.
Here are the happy but exhausted new Guinness World Record holders at the closing ceremony:
In their press releases prior to the show, Nvidia described NVISION08 as Art, Technology and Passion. I would say that they mostly succeeded with their goals. Nvidia arranged interesting events for the general public, including several “meet and greets” with celebrities. This editor managed to get two autographs from the very gracious and beautiful actress Tricia Helfer, Cylon Number Six on the SciFi Channel’s show Battlestar Galactica. She was on hand at the Center for Performing Arts, across the street from the main convention center, to meet fans of her show and to sign autographs on the first afternoon of the event. I joined well over 200 of her fans to meet her and speak with her for just a moment. She is quite tall and towered over Jensen in his opening presentation that included her. Later guests included Kyle Busch of NASCAR and Jayme Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters.
Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Eileen Collins were on hand the second day to meet, greet, and also take photos with the NVISION attendees. Buzz is the second man to walk on the moon and he is a veteran of the Gemini and Apollo space programs. Buzz was also on hand later that night to introduce a free showing of the film, Fly Me to the Moon in 3D, using the newer circular polarized glasses. It is the first film to be created from its beginning to be stereo 3D. Sadly the film is very lacking in entertainment value – even for children, i think – but the 3D is less annoying and gimmicky than earlier 3D films.
Eileen Collins is the first woman to pilot and command the space shuttle. Eileen was also part of the keynote address where she talked about how visual computing is shaping the future of the space program. I also got to meet and greet with the astronauts and I was also able to quickly ask Eileen Collins if she agreed with fellow astronaut Dr. Mitchell’s recently stated belief that space aliens are in contact with us. She hadn’t heard about his statements evidently, and dismissed it as sensationalism, “You know how people are”.
Here is your editor with the two Astronauts
NVISION08 is Nvidia’s first trade show and they pulled out all of the stops as they assembled at least 80 companies as partner-exhibitors in their show. The entire San Jose Convention center – both floors – were taken up by NVISION08. The nearby Center for the Performing Arts huge screen used Dolby 3D’s state of the art projectors to show two full-length 3D movies, free for the attendees – “Fly Me to the Moon” and U2’s huge concert in Sao Paulo, Brasil – the “U2 3D” stereo movie.
This is the front of the San Jose Convention center which transformed into Nvidia’s wonderland – complete with a long green – not red – carpet and green fountains. Unfortunately, they told me they needed to add blue dye regularly to the water as it turned yellow very quickly after exposure to light. You also cannot see the Nvidia “protesters” who are handing out flyers that are mocking Nvidia’s recent issues with overheating notebook GPUs. Nearby is the Center for the Performing Arts; the Crown Plaza used by I-Games; across the street is the Civic Auditorium used for Video Games Live; the nearby Fairmont Hotel and the Hilton Hotel next door were used for conferences. No wonder the Mayor of San Jose proclaimed last week, “Visual Computing Week” for San Jose! He also introduced the Keynote speaker and welcomed Nvidia and its attendees.
Besides the keynotes, movies and exhibitions, complete with an automotive section at the center of the exhibition hall; there was the HD theater and also a huge Gaming section, with competition going on at the highest level in the GeForce LAN as well as a successful attempt at setting a new Guinness World Book Record for ‘100 plus participants gaming continuously for more than 36 hours’.
Anyone with interest in the hundreds of products presented there could easily get reliable information and actually examine the products – including many future products.
The star of the keynote address on Monday was Nvidia’s CEO and co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang. Just about everyone at Nvidia refers to him as “Jensen” and in my opinion, he is the heart and soul of Nvidia. After being introduced by San Jose’s Mayor, Jensen took the stage, and with the help of several special guests, gave us a taste of what to expect from the rest of NVISION08. His keynote speech demonstrated and explained Nvidia’s vision for our 3-D future. Massive computational power, recently unleashed by the GPU, will deliver ever-increasingly realistic graphics which will in turn, enhance our own experiences in entertainment and how we interact with each other in Nvidia’s brave new world of 3D.
Of course the basis for Nvidia’s visual computing revolution is the GPU, the graphics processor which is the basic technology driving the industry. To give an example of how the GPU is changing the world of high-performance computing is Stanford University’s Folding@home program. Folding@home is a distributed computing project where people from all over the world download and run software which when banded together creates some of the largest supercomputers in the world. Every computer in use takes the project closer to their goals of understanding of how proteins grow and perhaps helping us conquer diseases like Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer. Folding@home uses computational methods tied to distributed computing, to simulate problems millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.
Currently, Foh uses over two and one half million PCs, comprising nearly 300 teraflops of total processing power. In just a few months since the CUDA-accelerated version of Folding@home was released for Nvidia 8800 series and newer GPUs, less than 25,000 GeForce GPUs have been added to working on the Foh problem. What is amazing, is that these relatively few GPUs – less than 1% of the total used by Folding@home, provide almost five times the processing power, of all the CPUs in use by Folding@home!! The Stanford researchers are confident that the use of GPUs in their Foh application will significantly speed up the time required to find cures for their target diseases. So Nvidia began to draw a contrast between the GPU and the CPU that will remain as a theme throughout NVISION08.
If you are interested in joining the Folding@home effort, you can put your GPU’s spare cycles to work in helping Stanford researchers understand and cure diseases:
Next, Peter Stevenson of Realtime Technologies (RTT) joined Jensen on the stage and described and demonstrated how visual computing is being applied to automotive design and styling. Stevenson showed us a digital prototype of a new Lamborghini model which was detailed down to the grain of the fabric and to every nut, bolt and screw in the automobile. This technology debuted mostly in aerospace design, but it is now filtering down to all types of products. It allows designers to design much better – and also make certain every part is in “tune” with every other before the manufacturing ever begins. It allows the designer to completely visualize the automobile – or any other product being designed – in 3D far better than ever before.
Next Jensen took us into the 3D virtual worlds of massively multi-player online (MMO) games. He was joined on stage by Taehoon Kim, co-founder of Nurien Software. Nurien is introducing a new type of MMO game that charges players only for “customizations” which he called micro-upgrades that should cost only a few cents each. This next-generation MMORPG – massivly multiplayer role-playing – type game from Nurien blends MMO gaming with social networking. This is actually very much in line with our own vision for AlienBabelTech’s forums – which will eventually be powered by a 3D game engine to allow for a degree of social interaction not found anywhere – yet. I must admit that I was surprised to see that ABT is also working toward a brave new future of virtual 3-D interaction as also envisioned the same way by Nvidia and we also found excellent tools at the event that will bring us closer to our own goal of entertainment and education for our members.
Next, Marv White of Sportvision gave some demos of relatively new technologies that have changed the way we watch sports on television. He showed how the line of scrimmage is projected onto a football field. Later he demonstrated how computational graphics are used to show the effects of “drafting” in a NASCAR race. Sportvision uses the GPU to calculate the fluid dynamics of the air surrounding the race cars and they show the viewer what is invisible to the naked eye – something the race car drivers “feel” and what Kyle Busch of NASCAR later attested to the following day.
Jensen then moved on to digital photography and showed that consumer photo apps are now able to combine multiple exposures – from different photographers and cameras – to create high dynamic range images which completely eliminate the problem of contrast in exposure; they are able to refocus the image after it has been shot! One such app is Photosynth, recently released by Microsoft Live Labs which uses multiple photos of a site or object to create a 3D model and then it displays a 360 degree perspective of the object which can be manipulated and interacted with by the viewer. Joshua Edwards of Microsoft Live Labs demonstrated how hundreds of photos of Stonehenge were assembled to display a 360 degree perspective of the site that could be interacted with. A very nice illusion of depth is possible for a viewer to achieve on the Internet. Jensen also pointed out that true 3-D dimensionalization of graphics is also possible in real time. Then he moved on to 3D gaming.
All 3D games are programmed with depth built into the program, so Jensen showed us a rather impressive demonstration of the latest 3D stereoscopic gaming technology from NVIDIA. After we put on our glasses, he showed us 3D stereo clips from NVIDIA’s new Medusa demo as well as an existing game, Age of Empires, that was easily converted to 3D by a GeForce GPU. Evidently over 350 existing games work well with this system which only requires the new 3D glasses. These glasses are rumored to cost less than $200 for each pair. Also required is LCD technology that uses 120hz for its displays, which are said to have no price premium over existing comparable screens. Of course, this is targeted at television gaming also. This technology was on display in the main exhibitor area and also in the LAN area so you could experience it for yourself. This editor likes gaming in 3D as the depth can be adjusted to provide the level of 3D immersion one desires.
Jan Huff of Perceptive Pixel’s was next on stage to give us a demo of his new multi-touch user interface. He used a 100-inch multi-touch display to show us what a likely large typical user interface of the future will look like. Currently, he said the mouse and the cursor are too limiting, with only a few inputs possible at a time. On the other hand, with multi-touch technology, amazing interactions of more than one hundred inputs at a time are possible – using literally ‘hands on’ and allowing for several users to collaborate simultaneously. Of course high-end design will use this multi-touch first, but this technology should eventually be available to the business and home user.
Finally, Jensen was joined on stage by Tricia Helfer, Cylon #6 of Battlestar Galactica and more recently of Burn Notice. Tricia talked about her challenges of acting with virtual characters – including her fear of being replaced by a virtual actress. I would say there is no danger to her career. She then took us through the stages of how filming some of the scenes from the hit Sci-Fi Channel series were done. It was a very entertaining 90 minutes and it certainly set the stage for the rest of NVISION08. We were free to attend the exhibits, or do what I did and I walked through historic and rather beautiful downtown San Jose back to my room to take a nap as I had driven all night to get there.
By 6:30 PM I was back and in line at the Performing Arts Center to greet astronauts Buzz Aldren and Eileen Collins. And at 9:00 PM Buzz introduced the Stereo Animated 3D “Fly Me to the Moon”. I really didn’t know what to expect, having been rendered nauseous by previous 3D movies. Well, although the movie was awful, centering around a silly plot to have 3 young flies journey to the moon with the USA astronauts and somehow foil a plot by Russian flies to sabotage the mission, the 3D effects weren’t so bad. Although the 3D was often overdone – just for the sake of showcasing the technology – the 3D glasses and the process have much improved. I was glad when the movie was over, however.
Day One is also over. An excellent start and the bar was set high by Jensen for the rest of the NVISION08 to meet.
Day Two is a warmer day in San Jose, but still very pleasant. The “must see” keynote event starts at 9 AM and it includes astronaut Eileen Collins, NASCAR DRIVER Kyle Busch, Lorne Lanning creator of Oddworld series, and Bernard Charles of Dassault Systemes. Kyle Busch was scheduled at 11 AM for a meet and greet at the same venue afterward, so everything moved quickly and smoothly. The second keynote started a little late with a local San Jose tech reporter introducing astronaut Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot and command the space shuttle.
Eileen described how visual computing has changed the way the astronauts train for missions. She said the early simulators of the 90s were quite primitive compared to today’s and it took far more training just to learn the shuttle controls back then. The simulators also give what a space shuttle landing does not; a second chance at a landing! In a space shuttle landing there is little room for error and there is no way to abort a landing in progress. They must get it right on a single try and she said the simulators really helped with getting these kinds of situations perfect in actually piloting the shuttle. She also said the detail of the simulations have become lifelike.
Astronaut Collins went on to give us NASA’s vision of establishing a human colony on Mars and said it also depends on accurately visualizing 3D and using programs to create simulations from calculating real distances and the interaction of orbits in space. We here on earth will also be able to use these new tools to get a much better 3-D picture of our solar system and even further out.
We got to see some details about the Mar’s Rover’s navigation system and how they safeguard it by projecting the likely terrain a few minutes ahead of it. It takes time for our signals to travel between Earth and Mars, and we cannot tell the Rover to do anything “suddenly”. In that time-lag time, for example, the Rover could otherwise drive off a cliff. We also got to see how the photos were analyzed 3-dimensionally to prove that there was in fact water in the trench that the Rover was analyzing. They also calculate the perfect time for when to actually take the photos so that shadows do not interfere. The space shuttle program is being phased out to be replaced by the Constellation program in just a couple of years. Again, using 3D graphics, astronauts can make much quicker sense of what is happening then being forced to interpret numbers as in the past. It looks like we humans are heading to Mars!
Bernard Charles of Dassault Systemes was next, and he talked about his 3D software programs that were creating the future of shopping online in a supermarket or mall exactly as we do in real life – but using rendered 3D in a virtual world complete with aisles and products we can “handle” and zoom in on. That way we can easily read the very finest print on the package itself. He did not mention that we should also be able to look inside the package – an advantage in his 3D world that we cannot have in real life shopping. This kind of 3-D virtual interaction will have great impact on our lives and on the way we shop. I could not help but think about our own site, AlienBabelTech, as a fully-interactive 3D world someday.
Of course, this 3D visualization is also changing the way designers develop and design products. These products can be created and virtually assembled to ensure each part fits perfectly with the others and the tools to repair them, for example, will be well-thought out and visualized by their designer. This projecting in 3D saves much money and time on mock-ups or retooling things that do not work out in practice. This type of 3D interaction may someday lead to customization unheard of today – even to ordering automobiles like we order tailor-made clothes today. Of course, this will require setting industry standards and also major industry cooperation to fulfill this potential.
Lorne Lanning, Creator of Oddworld series fame, is up next. He talks about and demonstrates digital fine art. Artists are digitally demonstrating what they visualize as art. He showed us the micro world being used as the basis for art and also the art of manipulating fluids, physics and altering dynamics 3-dimensionally in a way that is otherwise impossible, to create aesthetically pleasing results. He demonstrated a clip from Beyond Good and Evil 2 and made the bold statement that our children of the future probably won’t be typing reports – rather they will be composing video for school projects , perhaps even to recreating 3D battles from the Civil War graphically to create a video report for high school.
Kyle Busch of NASCAR was up next. He commented that while simulators were much better than before, they still lacked the “feel” of the real thing. He tried to appear enthusiastic about them but pointed out that the simulators lacked the tactile responses of the real thing but were great for actually designing race cars. He also said some of the professional drivers really liked the driving games. We got to see a demonstration of the racing simulators both on-stage – where Windows XP embarrassingly crashed, and later, if you were patient, you could actually try one out in the exhibition area to perhaps race against someone else.
The Keynote ended and we were left to do as we pleased until the U2-3D movie at 2PM. I much preferred U2’s concert film to the animated 3-D Fly Me to the Moon. With a great sound system and the illusion of 3D, the concert took on a more real and immersive experience. Not bad. I look forward to further 3D movies – now.
Nvision Concert was playing across from the main Convention center twice that Tuesday, and it showcased music from video games. At the center itself, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht video-blogged Dignation to the delight of their fans. If you chose, you could learn some really cool Photoshop tips and techniques in a workshop with Colin Smith. All the while, the trade show was in full swing with new products being showcased. The Electronic Sports World Cup competition was heating up and the Guinness World record attempt was in its second day – trying for 36 hours of gaming continuously. Lots of coffee!
It was a very busy and overall good, second day. I also got into the Spore Procedural demonstration of creating vehicles, buildings and creatures by the originators of the game ,and I videotaped it in its entirety. Many other demonstrations of video game programming were also in session and free to explore.
Day Three was much shorter and i was a bit annoyed that the final Keynote was at 3 PM – which meant there wasn’t much to do between noon, when the trade show closed – and the Keynote. I spent the time making friends and contacts, and i met another Tech Editor Jose Carlos Valle, from Sao Paulo, Brazil – the creator of Meuseu do Computador [the Computer Museum]. He was there at Nvidia’s invitation and it showed the international scope of their trade show. I can speak Portuguese from having traveled in Brazil, but his English was perfect. He said he also enjoyed NVISION08 and he agreed with Nvidia’s future for 3D.
One thing that I did notice finally, was that there was no apparent security at NVISION08, anywhere. Many of the attendees had backpacks, yet there were no lines and no searches. I asked Nvidia representatives about this apparent oversight, and I was assured there was excellent security but that the other more severe measures were now considered unnecessary. I found that refreshing if a little disconcerting.
Jensen did not address the final Keynote as advertised. Instead, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of TV’s Mythbusters put on a demonstration purporting to show the difference between the “slow CPU” and the “super-fast GPU”, that I found overall silly and overdone. Before their loud explosive conclusion using mass paintballs to create a “GPU-created Mona Lisa”, the final ceremonies were conducted and prizes given out to the Winners of the ESWC, Electronic Sport World Cup, the 202 new Guinness World Book holders, and to companies that Nvidia considered outstanding in furthering their 3D vision. The Mythbusters guy’s demonstration literally ended with a bang and we were dumped into San Jose rush hour traffic at 4:30 PM. Next time, it should end either earlier or later and the last day was a definite letdown, unless you were a real Mythbusters fan.
Overall, Nvidia gets a ‘B+’ from me for their NVISION08. Sunday’s poor scheduling kept it from receiving a solid ‘A’. In my opinion, it was a superb first effort at presenting a major trade show, and I look forward to covering NVISION09 for ABT’s first Anniversary, next year. See you there!