Caustic Graphics, a startup from ex-Apple engineers, thinks their approach to 3D graphics—ray-tracing—will result in way more realistic eye candy than you see today, with chips that are 200x faster than today's by 2010.
In a nutshell, ray tracing works by tracing rays (ta da!) or lines of light from a certain point through pixels in an image plane. It's hard to do, because it takes a lot of processing juju, with a fast processor that has a ton of cache memory.
Nvidia and AMD are working on a hybrid approach that uses ray-tracing and rasterization (their current technique). Which makes sense in context of what Intel chief Craig Barrett told me at CES: "Everybody's kind of looking at the same thing, which is, 'How do I mix and match a CPU- and a GPU-type core, or six of these and two of those, and how do you have the software solution to go hand-in-hand?'"
Right now, Caustic says they have a hardware and software setup that can zoomify ray-tracing 20x over today's hardware, and that by 2010, they'll have goods that'll do it 200x faster. Sadly, they're not moving into the gaming space first, instead focusing on architects and animators, meaning we'll have to wait for like Crysis 4 to see if Caustic can... well, you know the rest. [NYT]