Unlimited Detail is believed by many to be the one of, and possibly the most significant piece of technology of the decade.
It is best explained as follows:
Every time a new 3d graphics card or games console (Nintendo, Xbox, Playstation) is built, they make it more powerful in order to run more geometry (Put more objects on the screen and make them look more rounded). Games today still have a long way to go before they look like 3d movies (Shrek, Nemo, Toy story); billions are spent every year on R&D to make hardware more powerful. Unlimited Detail is a software algorithm that gives unlimited geometry. When we say “unlimited geometry” we really do mean it. It really is unlimited, infinite, endless power, for 3D graphics.
Most 3D graphics today are based on what’s called the polygon system; it’s a system that builds things out of little flat shapes called polygons. Games today all suffer from such problems as tree bases with only 6 sides or objects that are suppose to be round are hexagons. (See Fig 1.1 & Fig 1.2)
As computers increase their power, they will be able to have more of these little shapes, more shapes means more roundness and more objects on screen.
If we were to keep increasing computer power to make more polygons, and we were to make the polygons smaller to add more roundness, then in about 50 years time they would be so small that they would just be little dots, (think of like little floating atoms). When technology reaches this stage we now have true roundness and it is hoped that in about 50 year’s time we will have enough computing power to run these 3d 'atoms' in vast quantities. When this stage is reached, the graphics will be declared to be at “true realism standard” because they will be made of 3d atoms like our real world.
All of that was thought to be in the distant future, until a recent discovery was made:
It turns out there is a very, very different way to make 3D graphics, one that isn’t based on polygons, but can still import them, convert them and run them (thus making a compatible bridge between old and new technologies), we call this process the “Unlimited Detail algorithm”. (See fig 1.3)
Fig 1.1 showed a tree base from one of today’s games with 3 flat sides, Fig 1.3 shows a tree base made on Unlimited Detail with 300,000 flat sides, the polygon tree needs special high powered graphics cards and multi-core computers to run it. The Unlimited Detail tree will run on anything from a PC to a mobile phone and no special graphics cards are needed. (See Fig 1.4)
Fig 1.4 shows some strange creatures with very complicated modeling, there are no straight or flat edges to be seen on them. Considering their high level models it is fair to say we could probably display about 4 of them on screen at once if you used today’s polygon system.(See Fig 1.5)
Here are thousands of them being displayed on an ordinary laptop, using only one core, no special 3D graphics hardware is being used, and it all runs in real-time.
How does it work?
If you have a background in the industry you know the above pictures are impossible. A computer can’t have unlimited power and it can’t process unlimited point cloud data because every time you process a point it must take up some processor time. But I assure you, it's real and it all works.
Unlimited Detail's method is very different to any 3D method that has been invented so far. The three current systems used in 3D graphics are ray tracing polygons and point clouds/voxels, they all have strengths and weaknesses. Polygons run fast but have poor geometry, ray-tracing and voxels have perfect geometry but run very slowly.
Unlimited Detail is a fourth system, which is more like a search algorithm than a 3D engine. It is best explained like this: if you had a word document and you went to the search tool and typed in a word like 'money' the search tool quickly searches for every place that word appeared in the document. Google and Bing are also search engines that go looking for things very quickly. Unlimited Detail is basically a point cloud search algorithm. We can build enormous worlds with huge numbers of points, then compress them down to be very small. The Unlimited Detail engine works out which direction the camera is facing and then searches the data to find only the points it needs to put on the screen it doesn’t touch any unneeded points, all it wants is 1024*768 (if that is our resolution) points, one for each pixel of the screen. It has a few tricky things to work out, like: what objects are closest to the camera, what objects cover each other, how big should an object be as it gets further back. But all of this is done by a new sort of method that we call "mass connected processing". Mass connected processing is where we have a way of processing masses of data at the same time and then applying the small changes to each part at the end.
The result is a perfect pure bug free 3D engine that gives Unlimited Geometry running super fast, and it's all done in software.