SGI LAUNCHES OPENGL OPTIMIZER AS STANDARD CAD/CAM API

By News Analysis by Norris Parker Smith, editor at large

March 7, 1997

  Silicon Graphics, Inc., (SGI) has introduced a new Applications Programming
Interface (API) for visualization work on very large data sets. Named OpenGL
Optimizer, it is intended to improve the rendering and interactivity of
CAD/CAM/CAE data sets.

  In effect, it permits the programmer to visualize a forest without wasting
database and computing capacity on displaying in full detail every branch,
twig and leaf of all the trees.

  According to an SGI release, it "improves visualization performance by an
average of two to ten times over applications available in the marketplace
today."

  It is aimed in particular at the growing demand for digital prototyping,
in which computer simulations display a part or other engineering project so
authoritatively that the time-consuming, expensive process of building a
physical prototype can be skipped.

  The most frequently-cited example of digital prototyping is its use in the
design of the Boeing 777. Janet Matsuda, manager for emerging markets and
technology at SGI, explained in an interview with HPCwire that Boeing
developed its own algorithms for the 777.

  OpenGL Optimizer provides standardized tools that permits software
developers to concentrate on the unique features of their program without
taking too much time on the underlying graphics apparatus.

PROPOSED FOR CONSIDERATION AS STANDARD

  The Optimizer sits on top of OpenGL, a 3D graphics API developed by SGI
that has long been in wide use within the viz biz. In February, SGI joined
with other firms in announcing the intention to form a standards committee
responsible for defining an open, standard API for rendering CAD and analysis
data that would be based on Open GL.

  In announcing Open GL Optimizer, SGI also revealed that the new product
would also be offered to the proposed standards committee.

  Meanwhile, like OpenGL, the Optimizer will be licensed by SGI to software
developers, hardware manufacturers, and users. Matsuda said that this is not
intended to be a major profit center for SGI. The objective is to provide a
tool that makes it easy to take advantage of SGI hardware, but OpenGL and the
Optimizer are hardware- and vendor-independent.

  "Any API needs to be open and needs to be standard," she said.

HARNESSES, OCCLUDED CULLING, NURBS, AND TESSELATION

  Specific features of the OpenGL Optimizer include:

  --Easier adaptation to multiprocessor systems. This is accomplished
through a feature known as a "multiprocessor harness." An SGI backgrounder
commented: "Though multiprocessor machines are becoming more common, few
applications take advantage of this extra power because developing
multiprocessor applications is very difficult...With no prior experience
necessary, developers [using the Optimizer] can build applications that use
all available processors to maximize the optimization of large visual
databases."

  --Data simplification: multiple levels of detail are provided, making it
easier to display distant objects with less detail;

  --Generalized culling (deleting objects that are not in view in a specific
visualization). It includes occlusion culling, permitting developers to
remove objects that are hidden by other objects. Matsuda said that this is
the first commercial implementation of occlusion culling;

  --Improved tessellation (the process of displaying surfaces as polygons
that can be manipulated by the graphics engine). As in the variable grids
that are widely used in structural design and other fields, the Optimizer
makes it possible to provide denser tessellation for curved surfaces while
flat surfaces are tessellated more sparsely (that is, the triangles are
bigger and fewer).

  Optimal polygonal surfaces are generated from trimmed NURB definitions. (A
NURB is not a nerd in a suburb, but a non-uniform relational n-spline, a
mathematical means to define a surface.

  In addition the Optimizer provides fast database loading and paging, which
permits work with databases that are too large to fit on active memory in
one gulp.

  The OpenGL Optimizer was developed after years of consultation and
cooperation with independent software developers and other viz biz
constituents. It is the first in a series of APIs for use with Open GL that
will be aimed at specific vertical markets.

  An SGI briefing note said that "Although hardware graphic performance
improves steadily, innovations and software technology are necessary to yield
the performance improvements end users demand."

----------------------------
Norris Parker Smith is a journalist who specializes in
HPC and high bandwidth communications. Reader comments are welcome.


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