Quoteth the wikipedia:

In optics, a caustic is the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by a curved surface or object, or the projection of that envelope of rays on another surface. Caustic can also refer to the curve to which light rays are tangent, defining a boundary of an envelope of rays as a curve of concentrated light.

A new company known as Caustic Graphics is hitting the scene this month with the goal of revolutionizing the world of ray tracing hardware and software with a unique programming API and accelerator card.  The card (seen in a rendered shot below) is NOT a graphics card, and any system that wants to use the CausticOne, as it is called, will still require a CPU and GPU for computational setup and shading effects, etc.

The CausticOne ray tracing accelerator

The card has no display outputs but does have what looks to be a pair of processors of some kind covered in black heatsinks with two SO-DIMM memory modules as well.  There other connections and chips on the card, but we really don’t have any more detail from the company on what the hardware we are looking at here actually is or does. It is possible the black connections along the top of the card allow for multiple accelerators to be paired together for higher performance. 

The programming API for this new hardware is based on OpenGL and is called, appropriately, CausticGL.  In order for ray tracing applications to take advantage of this hardware, the program MUST be programmed to do so and thus we likely won’t see this card speeding up any existing applications.  Caustic claims their solution will be used by both professionals as well as for gaming though I wonder how a lack of support for OpenGL on PC and consoles will affect developer adoption.

Hopefully this month we’ll have more details from Caustic but until then, if you want to hear more of our thoughts on this start-up company, you can listen to our coverage in the PCPer Podcast #48 or watch Leo Laporte and me discuss the company on TWiT Live PC Perspective episode 17 (should be available tomorrow).
SAN FRANCISCO – March 10, 2009 – Caustic Graphics®, a new 3D computer graphics company, launches today with a fundamental breakthrough in raytracing acceleration that is set to define a new era in professional 3D production and interactive consumer graphics. Raytracing, the gold-standard for creating 3D imagery, duplicates the natural physics of light, creating stunning images by meticulously tracing the path of light to and throughout any given scene.

Caustic’s first-generation technology will deliver an average 20X increase in the speed used to create stunning, realistic 3D imagery for film and video, game development, as well as automotive and consumer product design. The second generation of Caustic’s technology, due early next year, is expected to gain an additional order of magnitude in performance, offering 200X speed over today’s state-of-the-art graphics products. This massive speed jump is due to Caustic’s patent-pending raytracing algorithms implemented in a semiconductor design.

The computational complexity of producing cinema-quality, raytraced 3D images involves large, downstream costs, including slow “black box” design iterations and costly “render farm” server infrastructures. These costs are symptoms of a problem with today’s computer designs where CPUs and GPUs are efficient at accelerating the rasterized graphics in video games but woefully inefficient at accelerating cinema-quality raytraced graphics. Caustic’s forthcoming standards-based CausticRT™ platform enables highly parallel CPUs and GPUs to massively-accelerate raytracing, putting it on par with rasterization and resulting in cinema-quality 3D delivered interactively on low-cost PCs.

“Real-time raytracing has been the holy grail of computer graphics since 1979 – a dream always on the horizon but never within reach,” said Dr. Jon Peddie, of Jon Peddie Research, the computer graphics market research firm in Tiburon, CA. “Demos have been done with 16 or more processors, super computers, and other esoteric devices, but never anything that was within reach of a PC budget. Caustic Graphics has made the breakthrough with a combination of a small hardware accelerator and some very innovative software to be able to deliver real-time, complex, high-resolution raytraced images – this is an amazing accomplishment.” The Caustic management team is made up of technical visionaries and graphics experts from Autodesk, Apple, ATI, Intel and NVIDIA. Before starting Caustic, company founders James McCombe, Luke Peterson and Ryan Salsbury worked together at Apple, where McCombe was a lead architect for the company’s OpenGL Graphics system and Chief Architect of Apple’s rendering algorithms for the iPhone and iPod.

“For years, 3D professionals in multiple industries have labored under the yoke of slow iterations and unwieldy offline render farms,” said Caustic Graphics CEO, Ken Daniels. “Caustic puts the power of a render farm, operating at interactive speeds, on every desktop, enabling designers and animators to get from concept to product faster, better and at lower cost.” The Caustic product offering will be announced in April 2009.

About Caustic Graphics
Caustic Graphics, creators of CausticRT, is reinventing raytracing and changing how interactive cinema-quality 3D graphics are produced, used, and enjoyed. The company, headquartered in San Francisco, is currently funded by angel investors. For more information, please visit www.caustic.com.