Cambridge (MA) - Nvidia's graphic cards may have much more to offer than simply drawing
pixels on the screen: A startup company has found a way to translate audio signals into
graphics, run them through the graphics card and overcome a common issue of limited audio
effect processing performance in computers.
It is not unusual that
professional music artists run into performance barriers even with the most powerful
computers today. Multi-track recording still is a challenging and sometimes frustrating
task. James Cann from BionicFX in Massachusetts however noticed that audio processing task
does not have to happen just in the CPU. His Audio Video Exchange technology (AVEX)
converts digital audio in graphics data and then performs effect calculations using the 3D
architecture of Nvidia GPUs. Compared to the capability of just six GFlops of a typical
CPU, Nvidia's chips can reach more than 40 GFlops, according to Cann.
"This technology allows music hobbyists and professional artists to run studio quality
audio effects at high sample rates on their desktop computer," he said. Cann's invention
is purely software-based and is not capable substituting a sound chip. The approach
exploits the video card 3D chip, which usually is idle when users are working with
multi-track recording software. "It's a great resource to use as a coprocessor," Cann
said. "AVEX is designed to reduce the CPU load by moving the processing to the video card
for certain types of audio effects when making music." Cann said that the technology is
purely targeted at music enthusiasts and at this time brings no advantages for
applications such as gaming.
But if Cann is right, audio effect processing
might be just a starting point how a GPU could be used for other applications. He believes
that several other software types could be greatly enhanced in the same way, such as
Genomics or SETI. "The GPU has some numeric precision issues that need to be worked out
for scientific applications to be possible, but the thought of performing the computations
on a resource theoretically capable of 50 and more GFlops of the GPU instead of five
GFlops of the CPU is exciting," he said.
So far Cann cannot take as much
performance away from the GPU as he would like. "Right now, getting the data back from the
video card is very slow, so the overall performance isn't even close to the theoretical
max of the card. I am hoping that the PCI Express architecture will resolve this. This
will mean more instances of effects running at higher sample rates," he said.
Still, there is significant boost of performance and reduce the load for CPU for people
who are using applications such as Cubase, Ableton Live, and other VST compatible hosts.
Cann's first commercial application will be BionicReverb, which is expected to go into
public and free beta in October. The final version is scheduled to be released at the
Winter NAMM Conference in January 2005.
BionicReverb is an impulse response
reverberation effect that runs as a plug-in inside VST compatible multi-track recording
software. The audio effect is generated by combining an impulse response file with digital
audio. Impulse response files are created by firing a starter pistol inside a location,
such as Carnegie Hall, and recording the echoing sound waves. Combining the two files
through mathematical convolution is a CPU intensive process that is reduced by moving
expensive calculations onto the GPU. Amateur and professional guitarists, singers,
pianists, and other musicians will be able to create performances in their home or studio
that sound exactly like they were recorded in famous locations around the world, according
At this time, Cann plans to only support Nvidia graphics cards. "When
I started, ATI had a problem with floating point data. I have heard they have resolved it,
but I won't have time to purchase and research their newest cards until after this is
released," he said.
Pricing was not announced yet, but Cann says he will make
his technology available for "far less" than the cost of professional studio DSP solutions
which can run into the high five-figure range. He estimates the price will be somewhere
between $200-$800. http://www.bionicfx.com/