Consumer Electronics

ARM Buys Lighting Software Firm to Improve Graphics

17 December 2013

Processor IP licensor ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) has acquired games software company Geomerics Ltd. (Cambridge, England) to improve its position in graphics for approximately £6.2 million (about US$10 million).

Geomerics, which was owned by public company Angle plc and had about 25 staff, has developed software called Enlighten, which it licenses to games developers. Lighting effects are one of the things that polygon-based, raster-rendered graphics do least well and provide an argument for going to ray-traced graphics. However, rendering a scene entirely using ray-traced graphics is computationally heavy, hard to do in real-time, and is usually the preserve of specialist applications such as movies.

Typical polygon-based graphics applications, which cover most PC and mobile applications are limited to direct lighting effects only. However, with Enlighten effects such as compound reflections, refractions, shadows and other advanced effects are possible.

Enlighten works with conventional raster-rendered graphics and generate "radiosity" which is an approximation of the reflected lighting from surfaces in the image and it can do this in fraction of a frame. The software has been used in a number of games including Battlefield 3 and 4.

The acquisition will allow Geomerics to build on existing partnership agreements and accelerate penetration in the mobile equipment, ARM said.

"The innovative technologies being developed by Geomerics are already revolutionizing the console gaming experience and are set to rapidly accelerate the transition to photo realistic graphics in mobile,” said Pete Hutton, general manager of the media processing division of ARM, in a statement. He also indicated that ARM would tune the hardware in future Mali GPUs to support Geomerics's software. He said: "Empowering Geomerics' portfolio with ARM's graphics capabilities and market reach will be transformative for the user experiences in future mobile and entertainment devices."

ARM's approach to improving graphics has differed from that of rival and licensed graphics leader Imagination Technologies Group plc (Kings Langley, England).

Imagination acquired Caustic Graphics Inc. (San Francisco, Calif.) for $27 million at the end of 2010. Caustic was developing a hardware accelerator that it claimed could lower the cost of ray tracing and merge lighting models with polygon-based graphics rendering.

Imagination has included support for ray-traced graphics within its PowerVR software development kit and has implemented the hardware in FPGAs and custom silicon at the 90-nm node. The company is now developing cores for an upcoming 16-nm process node with sampling to interested parties due to happen in 2014.

By buying a software team that can bring lighting effects to mobile without requiring additional hardware ARM has taken a short-cut that could see it match, if not over-shadow Imagination. However, the eventual winner will depend on how much crowd-pleasing graphical impact each can bring to mobile based on hardware and software and at what computational efficiency.

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