Ping pong in VR

Above: Ping pong in VR

Image Credit: Oculus

VB: Does the Polaris brand supplant the Radeon brand?

Koduri: It’s an architecture codename. It’ll still be Radeon something something on the box. But we didn’t have a consistent architecture name like our competitors do. It was hard, because for people, including yourselves and some of the press and enthusiasts—This family of chips has this architecture and a similar class of features. You can group them easily together.

When we set to design this GPU, we set a completely different goal than for the usual way the PC road maps go. Those are driven by, the benchmark score this year is X. Next year we need to target 20 percent better at this cost and this power. We decided to do something exciting with this GPU. Let’s spike it so we can accomplish something we hadn’t accomplished before.

The target we set was to do console-class gaming on a thin and light notebook. What does that take for the GPU in terms of power and configuration? I’m proud to say we’ve accomplished that goal with this GPU.

VB: Is that with a generation coming in 2016?

Koduri: Yes. We have two versions of these FinFET GPUs. Both are extremely power efficient. This is Polaris 10 and that’s Polaris 11. In terms of what we’ve done at the high level, it’s our most revolutionary jump in performance so far. We’ve redesigned many blocks in our cores. We’ve redesigned the main processor, a new geometry processor, a completely new fourth-generation Graphics Core Next with a very high increase in performance. We have new multimedia cores, a new display engine.

This is very early silicon, by the way. We have much more performance optimization to do in the coming months. But even in this early silicon, we’re seeing numbers versus the best class on the competition running at a heavy workload, like Star Wars—The competing system consumes 140 watts. This is 86 watts. We believe we’re several months ahead of this transition, especially for the notebook and the mainstream market. The competition is talking about chips for cars and stuff, but not the mainstream market.

In summary, it’s fourth generation Graphics Core Next. HDMI 2.0. It supports all the new 4K displays and TVs coming out with just plug and play. It supports DisplayPort 1.3, the latest specification. It’s very exciting 4K support. We can do HEVC encode and decode at 4K on this chip. It’ll be great for game streaming at high resolution, which gamers absolutely love. It takes no cycles away from games. You can record gameplay and still have an awesome frame rate. It’ll be available in mid-2016.

4K displays at CES 2016 in AMD booth.

Above: AMD says its performance per watt will beat the competition’s in next-generation graphics.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VB: In years past people looked to something like movies for inspiration. They’d say they wanted to do The Matrix on a game console. Do you have something that communicates to people what you mean when you say you can give them better graphics? Also, there are so many advances here — I wonder if you believe that’s enough to justify a new console generation. Microsoft upgraded from 720p to 1080p within the same console on new generations of the same chips. That wasn’t a reason to do a new console. But if there is going to be new consoles, what do you think are some things that would justify that?

Koduri: The answer is encoded in the pixel rate charts I’ve shown you. The jump from 1080p to 4K is much larger. VR’s needs are also much larger. There’s demand for more pixel throughput and more GPU processing power. That, to me, is a compelling reason. The pixel counts are quadrupling. You can buy a 4K TV for under $300 now.

VB: VR is coming and it’s something people will probably want. But what vision do they want to get to with that?

Koduri: I go back to this picture. This is what’s driving us. We’re just entering the VR generation now. We’re here. Even this requires much higher throughput than today’s graphics to get there. Part of the Polaris stuff is making the VR transition be a fruitful thing for even thin and light notebooks.

Today you look at what Oculus and everyone else is talking about as far as specs. It’s still limited to high end desktop PCs. With Polaris we want to bring that down to a much larger part of the market. But you see where we’re aspiring to be in the coming years. Our realization is that to get to that next step, it’s not just hardware evolution. In fact, most of the steps up to this VR point have been enabled, if you look at it, by significantly faster hardware at every step. The software pipeline hasn’t changed too much after shaders were introduced.

Epic Games' demo for Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Above: Epic Games’ demo for Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Fundamentally, when shaders were introduced, we could calculate light in a programmable way. All that happened, if there was a significant thing between then and now—Shaders were introduced in 2002. Between 2002 and 2015, we took a lot of this technology as an industry and took it to all platforms, to smartphones and tablets and stuff. On PC we just drew the resolution up higher and higher.

Now the next step is to get to the goal of photorealism in VR, to movie quality. That’s now achieved by rendering a frame for several hours. The realtime guys are going to get there in a much more efficient fashion. We’re working on that together with the software industry.

One key thing that’s different about this compared to our previous setup is that content is a central part of our strategy. It’s the highest priority, which is significantly different. Since last January, this time last year, we projected and predicted that we’d be huge. The number of people I myself employ — I thought it was going to take five years. But now there’s so many companies and so much content being developed on VR. A lot of it is evangelism by AMD, that we have to take VR seriously.

We also took VR outside gaming. If you saw the piece we did with the Smithsonian–We got a lot of startups, a lot of companies doing VR for education, content and modules for education. That’s one of the significant differences. Content is king for us.

VB: Your organization is becoming more independent. Are there any more changes you’re looking forward to that solidify that?

Koduri: We still have a fair amount of work to do to accomplish all the goals on the content side and on the business side. We’re constantly optimizing the organization and bringing in new talent, both internal and external. We brought in Scott Wasson to bring an enthusiast gamer perspective to the company. You’ll see acquisitions like that where we increase our connections directly more and more.

Another thing I should mention, beyond the focus on gaming — we have substantial plans around our workstation business and what we’re doing for the CAD/CAM side of the world, the movies, other content creation. We have an excellent pipeline there, especially as Polaris-based workstations come in this year. We expect to make a run at the workstation market much more aggressively, with much more compelling hardware and software than any time in the last 10 years. That’s another area where you’ll see a lot more work.

We’re also doing some very interesting work on VR cinema. That in itself could be an interesting piece, the world of VR cinema and what’s happening in Hollywood as far as content production. All sorts of companies in L.A. are doing interesting work.

VB: From the startup perspective, we’re seeing a generation of new funds being created. People who invested tens or hundreds of millions in mobile game companies are now setting up funds to invest in VR and eSports. They’re leaving mobile gaming behind. They’re investing in all sorts of things, from sensors to VR to esports.

Koduri: PC-based eSports? eSports is known as being less visually demanding than, say, a first-person shooter game. Does eSports VR become — right now the popular wisdom is that you need a 290X or a 970 or higher to run a VR experience. Does the rise of VR and eSports bring it down a notch, because you have less visually demanding games to deliver a VR experience with a smaller technology footprint?

As part of our Liquid VR strategy, we talked about the sensor stuff and strategies around that. That’s definitely part of our strategy, sensor computing and getting all kinds of sensors connected for full presence. You’re absolutely right. It’s very challenging, but we’re doing some amazing stuff on the VR front, and a lot of sensors, too, the cameras. There’s a huge opportunity there.