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LIVE from NVISION 08: First Keynote and a Whole Lot of Pictures

NVISION 08 kicked off with a graphical bang in the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. CEO and co-founder of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsung Huang, along with a plethora of brilliant guest stars, discussed the Visual Computing Ecosystem, and the many spokes in its ever-turning wheel during their first keynote presentation. Covering topics such as graphics, parallel computing (which received a big “Whoo!” from one section of the mostly awed silent crowd), displays, and image processing, Huang and company dazzled with images, video, demos, and pure graphically-charged adrenaline. Images and details after the jump.

First up was Pete Stevenson, COO of RTT USA, which specializes in digital prototyping of vehicles. Huang posited: “What if it was possible for us to render a car so realistically, so photo-realistically, that you can’t tell the difference between a real one and a clay model?” Stevenson and Co. have essentially done that. They showed off a fully-rendered, real-time active and completely rotatable model of a Lamborghini they’d designed solely to market to high-level buyers. Only 20 of these Lamborghinis are going to be made, and every inch of the virtual model had to display what the real car would look like–from the shape of the headlights to the reflections in the paint. Not only that, but every rotation of the camera corrected the reflections and images so that the model was always perfectly rendered–inside and out. The suede on the seats and the threads stitching the fabric–absolutely perfect.

Equally impressive, and hitting a little closer to home: Taehoon Kim of Nurien showed off his company’s “new type of virtual world,” where massively multiplayer online games (”clearly a global phenomenon,” from Huang) meet social networks. After explaining Korea’s model for micro-transaction over the “packaged goods” model of America, Kim discussed just what sort of items players will be able and want to purchase in this newest, and most in-depth iteration of virtual immersion. Imagine The Sims meets PlayStation Home meets essentially every game you’ve ever played. With the micro-transaction model, players strive to differentiate themselves from the crowd, changing every aspect of their appearance, beyond the material their clothes are made from to the tilt of their nose. In addition to the totally immersive virtual life, Nurien’s model offers games alongside the very-cool-but-gets-old-quickly model we’ve seen in The Sims and Animal Crossing: while plodding a female avatar about her very swank virtual home, Kim pulls up a second menu and begins a very DDR-esque mini-game. The peppy avatar begins dancing in time to the keystrokes corresponding to input requirements–and keeps dancing even after the game has ended. I don’t think I could pull off her moves, even in virtual-form. Impressive to say the least.

Marv White of Sports Vision, based here in the Bay Area, discussed the tricks to keeping the line of scrimmage above the field yet below the players’ feet, as well as the new “Draft Tracks” technology used in NASCAR to alert viewers to the wind resistance drivers are facing.

Josh Edwards of Microsoft’s Photosynth showed off some very impressive computational photography, in which dozens of uploaded digital photographs are combined to create pixel clouds which determine real spatial locations. Just because you’ve never physically visited a locale doesn’t mean you can’t tour it: with Photosynth, a 3D tour is just a click (and about a hundred photos) away.

Founder of Perceptive Pixel, Jeff Han, dazzled with his multi-touch screen, pulling up photos and apps on one side of a computer screen while Huang searched for his home on a map on the other. The technology can handle an “arbitrary” number of touches, whether five or fifty. LCD-screen Ouija board?

Favorite part of the first keynote: the transition from Photosynth to high-quality, actual 3D environments in our games. First, a pixel cloud model and rotatable 3D map was made of the Windmill level in Halo 3, simply from in-game resolutions. Next, a chance to use our 3D glasses–typically not too exciting, right? 3D is almost always a let-down. The first “dimensionalization” demo was thus surprisingly cool, a brief Medusa tale with a snake slithering toward us and the tip of an axe actually coming out at our faces. But the “What about video games?” follow-up was the solid gold. Age of Empires III began to roll, with what looked like tiny toy soldiers attacking the front–it was as if a real toy panorama had been brought to life and videotaped. If the room hadn’t been full of judging eyes, I might have reached up to pluck one from the screen. It was the most beautiful, breathtaking version of 3D I’ve ever seen, Rad Racer be damned.

And, of course, Huang’s daydreaming of taking two or three year-old titles and updating them with this level of technology, getting gamers to replay old games just to see what they’ll look like…that was a lovely final touch. I’ll just drift off into a coma of gaming “What if?” bliss…

More from NVISION as it unfolds. Those two giant tournament screens are pretty (awesomely) distracting.