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July 9, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 1:02pm


By CBR Staff Writer

Halfway into what it calls its 120 day campaign to seize control of the high-end graphics marketplace and topple Silicon Graphics Inc from its monopoly position, Hewlett-Packard Co is pitching the second of three weapons into battle, announcing its first dedicated graphics subsystem for 3D modeling as Visualize PxFl. Together with HP’s recently announced DirectModel visualization software which will begin to ship in September, and an enhanced set of OpenGL graphics libraries to be announced in the same timeframe, HP hopes what it claims is the highest-performing graphics engine can help it capture some of SGI’s largest and mechanical CAD and CAE customers such as the leading aircraft and auto makers. There are probably no more than 1,000 systems sold into this marketplace every year and HP has a zero share of that right now. These customers typically want to be able to eliminate a physical design phase by going directly from computer models to building production systems. Visualize PxFl uses the pixel flow- based massively parallel software HP acquired from UK company Division Group Plc last year (CI No 2,937), to render models composed of millions of polygons on to users’ screens. HP’s first standalone graphics subsystem – most hardware vendors can soup-up general purpose systems for 3D graphics with expensive add-in cards – has up to nine modules each with two PA-8000 RISCs and 8,192 pixel processors which can draw 100m polygons per second when six of the engines are coupled together. HP claims performance scales linearly as processors are added. For Visualize PxFl, available from January 1998, HP has extended OpenGL specifications for surface shading, adding texture or ‘bump-mapping’ and for drawing objects such as spheres and cylinders. It’s already trying to have the extension adopted by the OpenGL Architectural Review Board and will announce a raft of other extensions in September. They key difference between Visualize PxFl and other graphics systems is that it processes the elements of a 3D model in parallel rather than creating a model by a pipeline approach. So far it’s got Dassault Systemes SA, Division and DirectModel developer Engineering Automation porting their applications to it. Visualize PxFl is front-ended by a multiprocessing J-Class HP-UX workstation. HP will attach NT and its Convex Exemplar systems to it in future. We’ll have to wait for another turn of the marketing wheel before HP feels confident enough about taking on SGI in its key Hollywood and digital studio accounts. Visualize PxFl – which was code-named Everest – will be demo’d at the Siggraph trade show in Los Angeles in August. HP expects PxFl techniques will be applied to desktop systems down the road. The holy graphics grail that HP, SGI, MIT and others are working towards is to develop real-time image rendering systems which dispense with creating polygons to build models, really a legacy of first-generation graphics techniques. If there are a million pixels on a screen why not work with those individually instead of rendering polygons? it asks. The technology’s three to five years out. HP’s PxFl team, based at Chapel Hill in the University of North Carolina, is working on a compressed video board for use with Visualize which would spit out MPEG video instead of 3D models.

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