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on May 17, 2004
"GPU Gems" edited by Randima Fernando (Addison-Wesley, 2004, ISBN 0-321-22832-4) is a collection of white papers describing techniques and practical applications useful in today's programmable graphical processing units. The full color hardcover text is 816 pages and includes a CD-ROM that includes working demos and source for most of the articles presented in the book. The text retails for $59.99.
The text is divided into six major parts: natural effects, lighting and shadows, materials, image progressing, performance and practicalities, and beyond triangles. Each part has anywhere between 5 to 9 chapters (for an overall total of 42 chapters). The chapters are separate white papers related to the overall part's major topic. For example, the natural effects part contains chapters on water caustics, Perlin noise, creating realistic fire, and diffraction just to name a few.
Generally, each chapter has an introduction, a background with some mathematics, an implementation occasionally with some partial source code, a conclusion, and key references. While a different author writes each chapter, the overall feel of the book is consistent and smooth. The chapters read very similar to a SIGGRAPH paper without as much math or specific detail.
Take for example, the chapter on stereograms - a process by which a 2D image encodes stereo information that when viewed correctly reveals a 3D scene. The chapter has brief background section that includes several helpful color examples. The author discusses how to create such an image using the fragment program capabilities of a GPU using the z-buffer as a depth map and provides a demo program on the CD. Many of the articles follow the same format - enough of a topic to provide understanding, but not enough depth to be comprehensive or fully instructional.
The topics presented are extremely current. Many of the samples provided on the CD required the latest video hardware (GeForce4 or better) and latest drivers to run. The sample programs and demos require shader support, Cg, OpenGL, or the latest version of DirectX to run. On the plus side, the majority of the companion topics included pre-compiled binaries (but not the runtime dynamic link libraries) or an AVI illustrating the subject in addition to the source code. While the CD contains over 600 MB of examples from the text, it provided only 23 of the 42 topics covered in the book. Since most of the articles provide an overview and references to a topic, additional material on the CD would have been beneficial.
The majority of the contributors are from the Nvidia Corporation which causes the book to bias toward their hardware and developer tools. In fact, one of the chapters is featured FX Composer, Nvidia's shader tool. The source code is a mixture of different shader languages from Microsoft's HLSL to Nvidia's Cg - with various authors using whatever was comfortable or convenient. Although the majority of the material presented is applicable to other hardware, it is critical to have a broad understanding of various shader languages if porting to specific hardware is important.
I found the wide range of subjects quite interesting - and was refreshed that the topics actually seemed "ahead of the curve" in terms of hardware requirements. However in order to provide more subject depth, it seemed that the text could have been split into two volumes in order to expand the existing chapters with sufficient depth. As the material is just enough to get one started, the subject treatment may disappoint some readers seeking to apply the clever and unique techniques presented in the book directly or those hoping to use the book as an opportunity to learn some of the advanced features provided in a programming graphical processing unit.
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VINE VOICEon April 6, 2004
I can't think of a topic that is more well-suited to a gems-style book than shaders, and given how important shaders have become in graphics and game development, I've been looking forward to this book since it was first announced.
The book consists of 42 articles covering techniques available on modern programmable GPUs. The articles were written by the most impressive collection of authors I've seen. Many of them are from NVIDIA, with the rest being from game development studios and other leaders in the graphics industry, both in academia and commercial development. Each chapter is approximately 15-20 pages long, which allows for greater depth than most gems-style books.
The topics covered include lighting, shadows, materials, image processing, performance tuning, water, fire, grass, skin (from the Dawn demo), and nontraditional uses of the GPU. The examples use either HLSL or Cg (and thankfully not assembly level shaders). Unfortunately, the OpenGL Shading Language was not complete at the time of the book's writing, but the examples should port easily.
As should be obvious from the NVIDIA logo on the cover, ATI wasn't involved with this book. Not surprisingly then, many of the demo programs included on the CD won't work on ATI hardware. This is unfortunate, since ATI hardware seems to be more popular at the high end right now, so many readers won't be able to run a lot of the demos. However, the techniques themselves should be readily portable.
As a nice bonus, the book is printed in full-color, which is definitely a welcome change as it makes it easier to visualize the results.
This is one of the most timely and relevant books currently available for graphics and game development. I highly recommend it to anyone involved with either.
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VINE VOICEon April 11, 2004
Hard core graphics programming is definitely an area that separates the men from the boys. If your idea of graphics programming is making a ball bounce across the screen in Flash or Powerpoint, avoid this book. If you are a die hard programmer with a strong mathematical background looking to create some really kick a33 effects, this book is made for you.
The background stuff: There are just under 50 authors that have collaborated to create this book. Just about all of them have a Ph.D from big name schools and I believe every one of them has at least a Master's degree. Most, but not all are folks from NVIDIA. The whole book is about 800 pages including intro/indexes et al.
I really liked the book, but there's two things wrong with it. 1) If you don't have a VERY strong background in Graphics programming, you will be utterly clueless what's going on. There's No middle ground. 2) You need a pretty powerful graphics card to work through the examples, which, considering the target audience isn't unfair for them to assume. I have a fairly powerful card on my desktops, but my laptop just doesn't cut it and that's kind of a pain if you read on the run like I do.
As far as negative comments go, that's it.
So what's cool about it? The EFFECTS! Like I mentioned, if there's a cool special effect in a video game or movie, this book shows you how to do it. To summarize a few:
1) Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. If you are familiar with the game and the large bodies of water that are employed, Chapter 1 explains it in depth. There's a good discussion of Gerstner waves , vertex shading and overall simulation models.
2) Fire in the Vulcan. This effect was "Inspired by the Balrog creature in <I>The Lord of the Rings</I> movies, our goal was to display a monster that would be the source of raging flames..." Different variations of this theme have been around for a while and just about any gamer will be familiar with it. It's much more complex than the previously mentioned effect, but it's also more much compelling.
3) Shadow Mapping. Virtually every driving/racing game you've played employs extensive use of Shadow Mapping. The book dedicates 3 Chapters (12, 13 & 14) to the subject and it's discussion is superb. While I don't personally find this the most interesting topic, it's probably the best written area of the book.
4) Glow - Very Very cool. The scenario is the Tron 2.0 video game, but it's absolutely amazing. Although there was very little math here and the discussion was pretty much theory, I had a little (see a LOT) of difficulty re-creating the effects. The code accompanying the book includes everything for the chapter, but recreating my Cityscape wasn't happening. In all fairness though I was pretty excited with the effect and go into coding before reading it another time or two like I should have.
5) One last really impressive area is Filtering. There are many apps where the UI is important but ancillary nonetheless. When I fire up XDesktop, I don't need everything pulsing and glowing doing neat stuff but eating up processor cycles. On the other hand, video games better perform well and anything video centric better be smooth, fast and cool.
All in all I think this book is first rate. The effects absolutely rock, all of them are cool, and the picture quality in the book is superb. Just about every cool effect you'll want to deal with it covered in depth here and you won't leave the table hungry. I really can't emphasize enough though, this isn't a book for hobbyists. Much of the text is written primarily in symbolic math grammar and some of the simpler math involves manipulating Jacobian matricies for instance. If you want to really polish your graphics skills, this book is for you.
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on April 27, 2004
Addison-Wesley and nVIDIA went all out on this book. Every page is color. This means all of the code samples, graphics, everything, is in color. This is not only an impressive trick, it also makes a book on computer graphics a lot easier to read. To understand what a particular algorithm is trying to do with color you needn't go to the center of the book, the graphic is right there.
The content of the book is somewhat mixed. It's done as a collection of papers so the writing tends to vary from verbose to terse. For example the chapter on depth-of-field covers five different techniques in 15 pages with 13 medium to large graphics. That's impressive compression, but it means that it is very terse and the chapter amounts to little more than an overview. The very next chapter, on high-quality filtering, weighing in at 25 pages has a better balance of overview and detail.
Despite it's inconsistencies the book is still a wonderful resource and, frankly, a nice coffee table book to boot. It's even got some unintentionally funny parts, like the section header before page 3 that shows the most un-natural looking monster you have ever seen with the title 'Natural Effects'. Hardly. Still, a great book and a fun read. Bravo AW and nVIDIA.
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on May 14, 2004
One of the rare books I found helpfull, it goes through important details and doesn't stop at junks. This book should be a university reference that teach real-time special effects.
I highly advise it to 3D and game programmers.
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on May 16, 2004
Atricles are teribly organaized and nothing is followed through. For instace this book starts with explaination on how to render water. First article indicates that good way to do it would be by summing sin waves and then goes on with derivation. Yet a lot of questions are not answered such is sum of sines is used to represent one wave? multiple waves? all the waves? Graphs that suposed to explain equations are done in 2D, while equations themselfs are in 3D (and difference in drammatic). Then article indicates that sin sums do not represent water waves very well and moves to another equation (which leaves a question of why did they waste time with derivations?) It is also not clear on how this data, from ether equation is going to be used (such as to displace a vertex? or use it for bump mapping, or maybe something else) Other articles seems to bounce a lot too without explaining anything in depth. NVidia examples a tad better (but they cover less interesting points IMHO), thus one star vs zero. There are often no exmples for the topics covered which only makes it harder to understand (for instance i really wanted to see some for article about improving perspective shadow maps). I guess this is expected as good coders are often not so great at writing, but I guess at this price I expected more. Ohh and yes book is very nicely printed, fully in color.
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on March 26, 2014
The book is not recommended for the novice programmer, but offers some nice techniques for experienced GPU programmers and other developers.
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