Friday night’s big GTX 1080 unveil was the talk of the tech community, but it’s not the only project that Nvidia unveiled this past weekend. The company also showcased a pair of software projects it’s working on to showcase both its efforts in VR and its ability to beautify game screenshots.
Nvidia’s Ansel (named after Ansel Adams, the famous American environmentalist and photographer) is a new tool designed to allow users to create screenshots and even 360-degree “bubble” images. The ability to take screenshots in games is nothing new, of course, but Ansel allows you to step “outside” your character and manipulate the camera position before settling on a shot.
One of the frustrating things about trying to create “perfect” screenshots in gaming is that how easy it is to do so largely depends on whether the camera is a flexible, powerful, and intuitive tool or something kludged together by three chimpanzees and a rat after six years of perpetual crunch time. Ansel aims to reduce this type of problem by giving gamers powerful tools to pose and create screenshots — provided that developers support the feature, at least.
Ansel allows you to freeze time inside a game and adjust the camera position to anything you like — even in games that don’t allow a completely free camera already. It then scales up the resolution of the final screenshot to as high as 32x native resolution (4.5 gigapixels). These truly enormous image files — because seriously, that’s going to be onehell of a file size — can then be downsampled for an incredibly high-resolution focus on one specific area.
Other features include the ability to apply specific filters (Instagram for games, we suppose), capture and export in OpenEXR, and the option to capture 360-degree “bubbles” for viewing in VR. Nvidia announced at the same event that it has released an Nvidia VR Viewer for the Google Cardboard app (sadly only Android is supported as of this writing). You’ll be able to adjust the yaw, pitch, and roll of the camera, change the brightness or color, and create 360-degree shots (a gallery of these is available on Nvidia’s website). It’ll be supported on all Nvidia GPUs from the 600 family forwards, which means Kepler and Maxwell users will still have access to this tool.
The only downside is that support will be baked in on a game-by-game level, not implemented across the board at this point. Whether Nvidia will be able to convince game devs to standardize on a set of capabilities that enable Ansel in the future or not is unclear. But since support will ship in some games that have already been out for quite some time, it’s clearly something that can be patched in rather than required from Day 1.
The other major Nvidia announcement on the software front was its new VR Funhouse. This is a clever way for Nvidia to highlight the advances of both its VRWorks SDK and its overall technology — the various mini-games in VR Funhouse showcase technologies like Nvidia Hairworks, particle effects, Nvidia Flow (used for simulating fire and water) and PhysX.
Nvidia Flex (partical-based physics simulation) and the company’s physically simulated audio engine (Nvidia VRWorks Audio) are also used in Funhouse, which is best understood as a tech demo to showcase cutting-edge capabilities in a series of mini-games. It should also serve as a fun introduction to VR technology for early adopters and users who want to show visitors an easy, simple series of mini-games with low stakes and friendly controls.
We didn’t have the opportunity to demo much of Nvidia’s VR work this weekend, but the Nvidia audio demo we attended was quite good — the ability to simulate position based on where we were in the virtual space was impressive. Whether or not this capability will find much uptake in the real world, however, is less clear — multiple companies throughout the years have tried to convince game devs to implement impressive audio capabilities (most recently AMD, with its TrueAudio DSP) and the vast majority of developers seemingly can’t be arsed to bother.
Nvidia will also use VR Funhouse to support its VRWorks SLI capabilities. While most VR games and apps to-date are single-GPU affairs, both AMD and Nvidia are working hard to change that. Nvidia will support VR SLI with VR Funhouse, dedicating one GPU to rendering each eye. Unlike Nvidia Ansel, VR Funworks appears to be a Pascal-only title.