By Debra Kaufman

SIGGRAPH, the Association of Computing Machinery’s special interest group in computer graphics and interactive techniques, draws the majority of its crowd from visual effects pros and animators. At this year’s conference, manufacturers and researchers revealed several new technologies with applicability to the digital pipeline, some with direct applications in post.

CGI requires high performance, and manufacturers debuted speedier, more capable computer platforms at SIGGRAPH. Nvidia showed a solution “for creatives who like to have a laptop to work away from their desk, but want graphics performance when they are sitting behind it.” Partnering with Sonnet, maker of Thunderbolt expansion products, and unnamed others, Nvidia will ship in September what it calls an eGPU chassis, an external graphics card that allows anyone who needs high-performance to be mobile, from video editors to VFX artists. Nvidia has targeted video editors as an industry segment that can benefit from the eGPU, but dailies and finishing colorists could as well. Quadro P4000, P5000 or P6000 ‘workstation’ class cards are inside the eGPU. For use with Adobe Premiere Pro or Maya, the eGPU can be outfitted with Titan X gamer cards “with a specially tuned driver.”

Nvidia also highlighted its DGX Station, which it describes as a “desktop supercomputer,” advertising it as “as powerful as a render farm with 150 servers.” The company also debuted its accompanying OptiX 5.0 ray-tracing engine. A major announcement for us was using artificial intelligence to speed the rendering process, specifically the removal of noise which is part of the raytracing process,” said Nvidia vice president of developer marketing Greg Estes about the OptiX 5.0. “As the post world moves from CPU based rendering for GPU based, this is a big deal. Our data shows it’s 54 times faster than a dual Xeon CPU server node.”

PNY Technologies introduced its PNY PREVAILPRO P4000 and P3000 mobile workstations, with an Nvidia Max-Q design, that can drive up to four 4K UHD displays at once, according to vice president Steven Kaner. The systems are designed “to drive next generation workflows” across a range of industries including media and entertainment. Featuring Pascal architecture, Intel Core CPUs and HM175 Express Chipset, the new mobile workstations are also “incredibly light and thin” as well as powerful. The size is 14.96-inches by 9.8-inches by 0.73-inches and the weight is 4.8 pounds.

With regard to using them for display of 4K content, both PREVAILPRO systems feature a 15.6-inch 4K UHD or FHD display, and can drive three external displays at up to 4K resolution, which the company claims is “a feature unavailable on any competing system.” The P4000 mobile workstation “supports fully immersive VR, Nvidia VRWorks software development kit, and innovative immersive VR environments based on the Unreal or Unity engines.”

Dell, which is marking the 20th anniversary of its Precision Workstations, updated its tower and rack chassis workstations, with an aim to “handle complex, creative workloads, including development and deployment of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.” The new 5829, 7820 and 7920 Towers and a 2U 7920 rack integrate the latest Skylake-X Xeon processors, with up to 28 core Xeons, and are based on the C261 chipset. The towers hold up to 1.5 TB of 2666 MHz RDIMM memory in 4 or 6 channel configurations. The tower and rack workstations will be available October 3.

Virtual reality and machine learning/artificial intelligence were also on show, with the debut of a VR Theater to show off content. Among the product offerings, HP debuted a professional-level version of its VR backpack PC. The Omen X was launched in June for gamers, but the new HP Z VR Backpack is aimed at professional environments. The PC features an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia Quadro P5200 graphics chip with 16GB of its own RAM. Nvidia also used artificial intelligence to power its Isaac Lab robot. At SIGGRAPH, visitors could play dominoes with Isaac in a virtual world (via VR headset) simulated through Project Holodeck. The idea behind Isaac wasn’t to create an unbeatable robot, but rather to show how simulation and virtual reality “can help robots learn the much more nuanced task of interacting with people,” to ultimately learn skills such as “the ability to pour a cup of coffee, provide care for the elderly, perform surgery, or play a game of dominoes.”

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