Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 3, 2013 - 04:03 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, CloudLight, cloud gaming
Trust the cloud... be the cloud.
The executives on stage might as well have waved their hands while reciting that incantation during the announcement of the Xbox One. Why not? The audience would have just assumed Don Mattrick was trying to get some weird Kinect achievement on stage. You know, kill four people with one laser beam while trying to sink your next-generation platform in a ranked keynote. 50 Gamerscore!
Microsoft stated, during and after the keynote, that each Xbox One would have access to cloud servers for certain processing tasks. Xbox Live would be receiving enough servers such that each console could access three times its performance, at launch, to do... stuff. You know, things that are hard to calculate but are not too dependent upon latency. You know what we mean, right?
Apparently Microsoft did not realize that was a detail they were supposed to sell us on.
In the mean time, NVIDIA has been selling us on offloaded computation to cloud architectures. We knew Global Illumination (GI) was a very complicated problem. Most of the last couple decades has been progressively removing approximations to what light truly does.
CloudLight is their research project, presented at SIGRAPH Asia and via Williams College, to demonstrate server-processed indirect lighting. In their video, each of the three effects are demonstrated at multiple latencies. The results look pretty good until about 500ms which is where the brightest points are noticeably in the wrong locations.
The three methods used to generate indirect lighting are: irradiance maps, where lightmaps are continuously calculated on a server and streamed by H.264; photons, which raytraces lighting for the scene as previous rays expire and streams only the most current ones to clients who need it; and voxels, which stream fully computed frames to the clients. The most interesting part is that as you add more users, in most cases, server-processing remains fairly constant.
It should be noted, however, that each of these demonstrations only moved the most intense lights slowly. I would expect an effect such as switching a light on in an otherwise dark room would create a "pop-in" effect if it lags too far behind user interaction or the instantaneous dynamic lights.
That said, for a finite number of instant switches, it would be possible for a server to render both results and have the client choose the appropriate lightmap (or the appropriate set of pixels from the same, large, lightmap). For an Unreal Tournament 3 mod, I was experimenting with using a Global Illumination solver to calculate lighting. My intention was to allow users to turn on and off a handful of lights in each team's base. As lights were shot out or activated by a switch, the shader would switch to the appropriate pre-rendered solution. I would expect a similar method to work here.
What other effects do you believe can withstand a few hundred milliseconds of latency?
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 31, 2013 - 03:06 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: GDC 13, sky 900, sky 700, sky 500, RapidFire, radeon sky, GCN, cloud gaming, amd
Earlier this week, AMD announced a new series of Radeon-branded cards–called Radeon Sky–aimed at the cloud gaming market. At the time, details on the cards was scarce apart from the fact that the cards would use latency-reduction "secret sauce" tech called RapidFire, and the highest-end model would be the Radeon Sky 900. Thankfully, gamers will not have to wait until AFDS after all, as AMD has posted additional information and specifications to its website. At this point, pricing and the underlying details of RapidFire are the only aspects still unknown.
According to the AMD site, the company will release three Radeon Sky cards later this year, called Sky 500, Sky 700, and Sky 900. All three cards are passively cooled with aluminum fin heatsinks and are based on AMD's Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture. At the high end is the Sky 900, which is a dual Tahiti graphics card clocked at 825 MHz. The Sky 900 features 1,792 stream processors per GPU for a total of 3,584. The card further features 3GB of GDDR5 RAM per GPU on a 384-bit interface for a total GPU bandwidth of 480GB/s. AMD claims this dual slot card draws up to 300W while under load. In many respects the Sky 900 is the Radeon-equivalent to the company's professional FirePro S10,000 graphics card. It has similar hardware specifications (including the 5.91TFLOPS of single precision performance potential), but a higher TDP. It is also $3,599, though whether AMD will price the gaming-oriented Sky 900 similarly is unknown.
The Sky 700 steps down to a single-GPU graphics card. This card features a single Tahiti GPU clocked at 900 MHz with 1792 stream processors and 6GB of GDDR5. The graphics card memory uses a 384-bit memory interface for a total memory bandwidth of 264GB/s. Although also a dual slot card like the Sky 900, the cooler is smaller and it draws only 225W under load.
Finally, the Sky 500 represents the low end of the company's cloud gaming hardware lineup. It is the Radeon Sky equivalent to the company's consumer-grade Radeon HD 7870. The Sky 500 features a single Pitcairn GPU clocked at 950 MHz with 1280 stream processors, 4GB of GDDR5 on a 256-bit memory bus, and a rated 150W power draw under load. It further features 154GB/s of memory bandwidth and is a single slot graphics card.
|Sky 900||Sky 700||Sky 500|
|GPU(s)||Dual Tahiti||Single Tahiti||Single Pitcairn|
|GPU Clockspeed||825 MHz||900 MHz||950 MHz|
|Stream Processors||3584 (1792 per GPU)||1792||1280|
|Memory||6GB GDDR5 (3GB per GPU)||6GB GDDR5||4GB GDDR5|
Additionally, the Radeon Sky cards all employ a technology called RapidFire that allegedly reduces latency immensely. As Ryan mentioned on the latest PC Perspective Podcast, the Radeon Sky cards are able to stream up to six games. RapidFire is still a mystery, but the company has indicated that one aspect of RapidFire is the use of AMD's Video Encoding Engine (VCE) to encode the video stream on the GPU itself to reduce game latency. The Sky cards will output at 720p resolutions, and the Sky 700 can support either three games at 60 FPS or six games at 30 FPS.
In addition to working with cloud gaming companies Ubitus, G-Cluster, CiiNow, and Otoy, AMD has announced a partnership with VMWare and Citrix. AMD is reportedly working to allow VMWare ESX/ESXi and Citrix XenServer virtual machines to access the GPU hardware directly, which opens up the possibility of using Sky cards to run workstation applications or remote desktops with 3D support much like NVIDIA's VCA and GRID technology (which the company showed off at GTC last week). Personally, I think the Sky cards may be late to the party but is a step in the right direction. Even if cloud gaming doesn't take off, the cards could still be used to great success by enterprise customers if they are able to allow direct access to the full graphics card hardware from within virtual machines!
More information on the Radeon Sky cards can be found on the AMD website.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 27, 2013 - 08:16 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sky graphics, sky 900, RapidFire, radeon sky, pc gaming, GDC, cloud gaming, ciinow, amd
AMD is making a new push into cloud gaming with a new series of Radeon graphics cards called Sky. The new cards feature a (mysterious) technology called "RapidFire" that allegedly provides "highly efficient and responsive game streaming" from servers to your various computing devices (tablets, PCs, Smart TVs) over the Internet. At this year's Games Developers Conference (GDC), the company announced that it is working with a number of existing cloud gaming companies to provide hardware and drivers to reduce latency.
AMD is working with Otoy, G-Cluster, Ubitus, and CiiNow. CiiNow in particular was heavily discussed by AMD, and can reportedly provide lower latency than cloud gaming competitor Gaikai. AMD Sky is, in many ways, similar in scope to NVIDIA's GRID technology which was announced last year and shown off at GTC last week. Obviously, that has given NVIDIA a head start, but it is difficult to say how AMD's technology will stack up as the company is not yet providing any specifics. Joystiq was able to obtain information on the high-end Radeon Sky graphics card, however (that's something at least...). The Sky 900 reportedly features 3,584 stream processors, 6GB of GDDR5 RAM, and 480 GB/s of bandwidth. Further, AMD has indicated that the new Radeon Sky cards will be based on the company's Graphics Core Next architecture.
|Sky 900||Radeon 7970|
I think it is safe to assume that the Sky cards will be sold to other cloud gaming companies. They will not be consumer cards, and AMD is not going to get into the cloud gaming business itself. Beyond that, AMD's Sky cloud gaming initiative is still a mystery. Hopefully more details will filter out between now and the AMD Fusion Developer Summit this summer.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | January 9, 2013 - 11:46 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, nvidia, grid, cloud gaming, ces 2013, CES
Despite all the excitement about the NVIDIA Shield handheld gaming device at CES, the company was also heavily promoting its GRID Cloud Gaming Technology, marking another company that is promosing "game everywhere on everything". NVIDIA's claims of lower latency thanks to rendering and encoding on the same GPU have really yet to be verified as the hands-on demos they had at the show were running on local servers (not exactly a real-world test...).
NVIDIA isn't planning on releasing a self-branded service to the public but instead wants to sell servers to ISPs and service providers to increase density (more games per server) and performance. There are no current cloud gaming companies using GRID technology so it looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer to see it's true capabilities.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2012 - 10:41 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: virtualization, radeon, onlive, gaming, cloud gaming, ciinow, amd
In the wake of OnLive going bankrupt and selling itself to new investors, a new cloud gaming company has emerged called CiiNOW. The company was founded in 2010 and now has 24 employees. It has managed to raise more than $13 million USD, but with a new investment from new chip designer AMD CiiNow is ready to go public with its software. Interestingly, instead of starting its own cloud gaming service, CiiNow is positioning itself as a Middleware company by selling its virtualization and gaming software to other companies. Those business customers would then use CiiNow’s software to start their own cloud gaming services.
In the deal with AMD, CiiNOW will recommend AMD Radeon graphics cards to customers as well as supporting them on its software platform. According to CiiNow, its virtualized platform is able to run on any data center or cloud computing platform’s hardware. While OnLive generally required specialized servers where the graphics card was dedicated to providing games to one (or a small number of) user(s), CiiNow claims to be able to provide up to eight 720p HD streams per server blade, and up to 272 HD streams per traditional server rack. On the user side of things, CiiNow has stated that gamers would need at least a Mbps internet connection in order to play the streamed games effectively. Company CEO Ron Haberman was quoted by Venture Beat in stating the following:
“One of the big issues with cloud gaming is that no one likes to talk about costs, we are more economical because we virtualize any hardware that fits underneath our software.”
While the company has not gone into details about how the virtualization software works on off-the-shelf servers, they claim that it is an extremely scalable solution that can support rapidly growing numbers of end users without dramatically increasing hardware costs. It's impossible to say how well cloud gaming services based on this technology will work without more details or a hands on, but it is nice to see someone else take up the mantle from OnLive – especially with competitor Gaikai being bought out by Sony. CiiNow wants its technology to be used to deliver AAA titles to gamers over the Internet, so I'm interested in how they are going to pull that off using varying hardware with CiiNow's software layer running on top (specifically, the performance they will be able to get out of the hardware and how it will be sliced up between clients/gamers).
The company has said that games will not need to be ported to the virtualized software to work, only a DRM free copy from the publisher needs to be provided to load it onto the platform. Further, the cloud gaming provider using CiiNow's software will be able to support game pads and other controllers to interact with the streamed games. CiiNow does not list specific latency numbers on its site, but claims that it is using a low latency H.264 video stream to send the gameplay down to users. It remains to be seen whether or not it will be able to match or exceed NVIDIA's GRID technology in that respect, however.
There are still a lot of questions about how CiiNOW's software will work, and whether it will advance cloud gaming in general. Fortunately, you should be able to get some answers soon as the company's software is now available to the public, and we should start to see some new cloud gaming providers popping up based on the virtualization technology. Reportedly, the company has completed several trial runs in Europe and has potential customers in the US, Korea, and Australia. CiiNow claims that it could take around two months from when a customer orders equipment before its cloud gaming service can go live, so the first fruits of CiiNow's labor might emerge by the end of this year.
There is a preview of a cloud gaming service up on CiiNOW's website, but no partners with plans to launch gaming services have been publicly announced yet.
In the video below, CiiNOW CEO Ron Haberman introduces the company's new cloud gaming platform.
Continue reading for my speculation and brief thoughts on cloud gaming. Feel free to join the comment discussion (no registration required).
Subject: General Tech | July 4, 2012 - 12:15 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: onlive competitor, gaming, gaikai, cloud gaming
At AFDS, David Perry showed off the cloud gaming service Gaikai running on Samsung's Smart Televisions where he hinted that a closed beta might become available soon. Despite my concerns following the acquisition of Gaikai by Sony, the beta application showed up today as being available for download. We managed to snag a few photos of the app and the setup process, as seen below.
The Gaikai application tile in the Samsung Smart Hub
After upgrading to the latest (just released) firmware, which is version 1023.0 at time of writing, the application tile for Gaikai becomes available. The easiest way to upgrade the TV’s firmware is to force an update by navigating to the TV's menu, then clicking on "Support," and finally selecting the Software Update option. Alternatively, users can download the firmware from the Samsung website and place it on a USB flash drive.
After clicking on the app tile (which is only shown for a few seconds at a time) in the Samsung Smart Hub, you can download it to your TV. After the application runs through a few tests, you are presented with an access code to use on the Gaikai.com website. After obtaining the access code, you will need to go to the Gaikai website and enter it. From there, you will need to go through a couple of steps and enter a few bits of personal information to sign up for the beta program. Right now, they are running a promotion where the first 150 people that sign up for (and are accepted into) the beta will receive a Logitech game pad. We understand the input requirement will be with any Xinput compatible controller, but Gaikai seems to favor the Logitech 310, 510, and 710 controllers, as seen when they gave a live demo to Engadget last month.
The Samsung Cloud Gaming application is currently at version 9.1121 and is a 20.4MB download. You can obtain the app from the Smart Hub, as mentioned above. If you don't see this firmware and/or the app, your set might not yet be supported or simply be too old to support the beta. The service is expected to require a 7000 Series or higher Samsung Smart TV. Initial support is for 2012 models, but that support may be rolled back to earlier units as the beta progresses.
Interestingly, this beta application and its accompanying firmware have both gone live with little fanfare from either company. If you own a Samsung TV and want a chance to get in on the beta, be sure to update your TV’s firmware and sign up for the Gaikai beta as soon as possible. If you have managed to get into the beta, we encourage you to test out the service and join the discussion in the comments section below (no registration required).
Stay tuned for more information on the Gaikai Samsung Smart TV beta as we get it! As soon as we are accepted into the beta, we will try to test the service out and report back.
Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2012 - 02:03 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sony, ps4, Internet, gaming, gaikai, cloud gaming
Gaikai, the streaming cloud gaming service was bought today by Sony Computer Entertainment. At this year’s Fusion Developer Summit, Gaikai stated its goal to be the gaming service on all of your devices, from your cell phone to Smart TV. Interestingly, the recent buyout from Sony raises questions about the future openness of the platform.
Purchased for $380 million, Sony plans to combine its game catalog with Gaikai’s streaming technology to provide cloud entertainment services. Gaikai CEO David Perry was quoted by The Verge as saying:
“We're honored to be able to help SCE rapidly harness the power of the interactive cloud and to continue to grow their ecosystem, to empower developers with new capabilities, to dramatically improve the reach of exciting content and to bring breathtaking new experiences to users worldwide.”
The biggest question I have about the future of Gaikai is whether not not it will now be a Sony-only technology. At AFDS, Gaikai showed off the technology running on Samsung Smart TVs, though it remains to be seen whether Sony will continue to license the technology to other companies. Should it remain Sony-only, the company could use that exclusivity as a feature-add for its consoles, Google TVs, blu ray players, and televisions. They could further use Gaikai to power its future consoles or to bring its entire library of console games to the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita gaming platforms. The Verge speculates that Sony could be using the technology to bring its back-catalog of PS1 and PS2 games to the current generation console, now that it is otherwise no longer backwards compatible with the older hardware. That sounds like a very plausible plan of action for Sony.
Will Sony bring Gaikai-powered cloud gaming to the PS3?
You can find more additional quotes and speculation over at The Verge. What do you think will happen to Gaikai’s technology? Will Sony put it to good use or did they only buy it now to keep others from using it?
NVIDIA puts its head in the clouds
Today at the 2012 NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC), NVIDIA took the wraps off a new cloud gaming technology that promises to reduce latency and improve the quality of streaming gaming using the power of NVIDIA GPUs. Dubbed GeForce GRID, NVIDIA is offering the technology to online services like Gaikai and OTOY.
The goal of GRID is to bring the promise of "console quality" gaming to every device a user has. The term "console quality" is kind of important here as NVIDIA is trying desperately to not upset all the PC gamers that purchase high-margin GeForce products. The goal of GRID is pretty simple though and should be seen as an evolution of the online streaming gaming that we have covered in the past–like OnLive. Being able to play high quality games on your TV, your computer, your tablet or even your phone without the need for high-performance and power hungry graphics processors through streaming services is what many believe the future of gaming is all about.
GRID starts with the Kepler GPU - what NVIDIA is now dubbing the first "cloud GPU" - that has the capability to virtualize graphics processing while being power efficient. The inclusion of a hardware fixed-function video encoder is important as well as it will aid in the process of compressing images that are delivered over the Internet by the streaming gaming service.
This diagram shows us how the Kepler GPU handles and accelerates the processing required for online gaming services. On the server side, the necessary process for an image to find its way to the user is more than just a simple render to a frame buffer. In current cloud gaming scenarios the frame buffer would have to be copied to the main system memory, compressed on the CPU and then sent via the network connection. With NVIDIA's GRID technology that capture and compression happens on the GPU memory and thus can be on its way to the gamer faster.
The results are H.264 streams that are compressed quickly and efficiently to be sent out over the network and return to the end user on whatever device they are using.