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Imagination buys Caustic, may bring raytracing to iPhone

updated 12:50 pm EST, Tue December 14, 2010

Imagination buys Caustic, boosts PowerVR video

Imagination Technologies this morning said it had bought Caustic Graphics in what could be a major boost to the graphics on future iPhones and Android devices. The $27 million deal gives Imagination access to real-time raytracing technology and will improve the performance of PowerVR mobile graphics. The move will let phones and other mobile hardware get "cinema quality" lighting effects, Caustic CEO Chip Stearns said.

Raytracing works by calculating the complete path of each light ray in a 3D scene, producing very accurate shadows and light tones. It also usually accounts for reflection and refraction and produces much softer, more natural results. The technology is very compute-intensive, even on the desktop, and is normally used only in professional modelling apps or in pre-calculated lighting for games. Newer graphics chipsets, usually at the high end, can handle live raytracing while still preserving detail.

Apple is likely to be one of the main customers for the advances. PowerVR video has been present in the iPhone since launch and remains even as Apple has begun spinning its own ARM processors. The electronics giant already has a 9.5 percent stake in Imagination and can help influence the direction of its graphics along with fellow stakeholder Intel.

Besides Intel, which uses PowerVR in some Atom chips, Samsung has been one of the most eager adoptees and uses the GPUs in the Galaxy S line, the Nexus S and the Galaxy Tab. The decision is credited with giving Samsung often dramatic performance advantages over phones with Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip, which uses the slower Adreno 200.

None of the companies gave a timetable for the first fruits of the buyout, but the results aren't expected to turn up in 2011. The PowerVR SGX545 is likely to be used in this year's iPads, iPhones and iPods but will have had its hardware feature support locked in. [via AppleInsider]

by MacNN Staff



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