In the mood for light reading? Nvidia is writing a book on ray tracing

In a just a few more weeks, Nvidia can claim it wrote the book on ray tracing, or at least a book on the topic. Work has already begun, and Nvidia is planning to make a hardback version available mid-March at GDC and GTC. What's the point?

"Our main goal with this book is educating developers at all levels about important concepts and the state of the art in ray tracing, with an emphasis on real-time rendering," Nvidia explains.

Titled "Ray Tracing Gems," Nvidia promises the book will not be a survey of the field of ray tracing, as such tomes already exist. Instead, Nvidia says its book will highlight techniques that are not typically covered in general texts. It will also include tutorials on newer technologies and guides on best practices for solving problems.

More than a passing curiosity for Nvidia, the GPU maker has a vested commercial interest in ray tracing, which is the staple feature of its Turing GPU architecture. Even without it, the company's GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming, but it's the allure of realistic light reflections driven by ray-traced rendering that is the main selling point.

Ironically, it's also what holds the card back. Sales of the GeForce RTX series as a whole have not met Nvidia's expectations, with the company recently admitting that some customers have put off upgrading in anticipation of lower price points and "further demonstrations of RTX technology in actual games." Or put another way, the cards are pricey and support is lacking at the moment.

Undeterred, Nvidia is part of a larger industry push to usher in the era of real-time ray tracing in the mainstream market. Microsoft is part of that push with its DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API, and eventually it's reasonable to expect both AMD and Intel will implement support in future GPU architectures.

"The introduc­tion of explicit ray tracing acceleration features into graphics hardware is a major step toward bringing real-time ray tracing into common usage. Combining the sim­plicity and inherent parallelism of ray tracing with the accessibility and  horsepower of modern GPUs brings real-time ray tracing performance within the reach of every graphics programmer. However, getting a driver‘s license isn‘t the same as winning an automobile race. There are techniques to be learned. There is experience to be shared. As with any discipline, there are tricks of the trade. When those tricks and techniques are shared by the experts who have contributed to this text, they truly become gems," ray tracing pioneer J. Turner Whitted wrote in the book's Forward.

In the lead up to the hardcover launch, Nvidia is making available the entire text for free to its registered developers in seven PDF chunks. The first of those is available now, with more to follow every few days. It doesn't cost anything to register as a developer, in case anyone is in the mood for some light reading (ba-dum tish!).

Paul Lilly

Paul has been playing PC games and raking his knuckles on computer hardware since the Commodore 64. He does not have any tattoos, but thinks it would be cool to get one that reads LOAD"*",8,1. In his off time, he rides motorcycles and wrestles alligators (only one of those is true).