20150111 - Leaving Something for the Imagination


Lack of information can invoke the perfect reconstruction of the mind. For visuals, seems like the deepness and slope of the uncanny valley is proportional to the spatial temporal resolutions of the output device. This 4K and eventual 8K crazyness, while awesome for 2D and print, has an unfortunate consequence for real-time realistic 3D: available perf/pixel tanks simultaneously as required perf/pixel skyrockets due to the increased correctness required for perceptual reality.

The industry continues to shoot itself in the foot focusing on quantity instead of quality, raising the baseline cost required for digital 3D content to climb out of the uncanny valley.

The industry also seems to be on a roll reducing the quality of display technology. Sitting through an "IMAX" film at a DLP based theater destroyed the respect I had for that brand. Paying extra for a "cubism" filter applied to what otherwise might have been a good experience is not what I had in mind when going to the theater. Quite a shock for someone who grew up with analog IMAX and OMNIMAX (IMAX projected in a dome).

Scan-and-hold LCDs have killed the quality of motion, and strobed LCDs have insane frame-rate requirements compared to a similar experience on a CRT. With typical HDTVs and LCD displays, 60Hz sits in the no-man's land between having more perf/pixel for something visually interesting, and having enough frame-rate on a scan-and-hold device to remove enough blur in motion (120Hz and higher required). For this scan-and-hold generation the true purpose of the "motion-blur filter" is not to add realistic motion blur, but remove enough visual quality to mask the distortion caused by scan-and-hold in motion.

Making Lemonade
Display technology trends provide a powerfull polarization: general flexible rendering solutions attempting to solve all problems will result in mediocre results (jack of all trades and the master of none of them). IMO everything interesting can only be found by sacrificing something others view as required, but which enables you to do something otherwise impossible.

Giving up frame-rate, for example the hot path for realistic rendering on PC: leverage variable refresh rate (to be able to simultaneously maximize the quality of animation and GPU utilization), render letterboxed around 30Hz (to maximize perf/pixel), run all game logic on the GPU reading input from CPU-filled persistent mapped ring buffer (minimize input latency), use heavy post processing like motion blur and extreme amounts of film grain (remove enough exactness to invoke the mind's reconstruction filter).

4K presents a serious problem in that in-display up-sampling can add latency, and often in-GPU-scan-out or in-display up-sampling is total garbage (for example too strong negative lobe adds a halo effect). The way I'd tackle the 4K display is actually the oppsite of convention: output native but use the increased resolution to simulate a synthetic CRT shadow mask or maybe a very high ISO film (massive grain), to reduce the required internal target resolution to something under 1080p. On that topic, the majority of the trending "pixel art" games completely missed the point of the arcades: ultra-low-latency input with constant frame-rate (not possible on mobile platforms or in browsers), arcade joystick input (something well-grounded and precise which can take a pounding), and high-quality non-block pixels produced by a CRT.

My personal preference is for the most extreme tradeoffs: drop view dependent lighting, go monochome, drop resolution, drop motion blur, drop depth of field, no hard lighting, no hard shadows, remove aliasing, add massive amounts of film grain, maximize frame-rate, and minimize latency. Focus on problems which can be solved without falling into the valley, produce something which respects the limits of the machine, and yet strives for timeless beauty.