AECCafé Special News Report: 3D Across Three Displays Designed for Core Autodesk Products

By Susan Smith

This week Matrox Graphics announced its v1.02 beta drivers and digital video plug-ins for the Matrox Parhelia graphics card, with final driver release to be released for later in October. In addition, the Matrox Parhelia was named the best graphics card for brilliant image quality and signal source by DisplayMate Technologies in their Best Video Hardware Guide awards.

In September Matrox Graphics and TORNADO Technologies Inc., a provider of collaborative 3D visualization and communication software, announced a strategic partnership that delivers to AutoCAD® users exclusively with the Matrox Parhelia™ graphics card a combination of Matrox graphics card technology and TORNADO's AEC|VIZ 3D visualization tools.

Parhelia technology includes Surround Design, which is hardware accelerated 3D across three displays, TripleHead maximum screen real estate for the desktop, PrecisionCAD drivers for AutoCAD which are customized AutoCAD drivers, AEC|VIZ from TORNADO Technologies, and UltraSharp Display Output technology that offers high quality analog, digital and TV-output.

For the AEC market, Parhelia has developed PrecisionCAD drivers that are compatible with all the ARX core technology-based Autodesk products. Although PrecisionCAD drivers do not work with Revit, Inventor and some other software programs, Matrox is working on extending their compatibility.

AEC|VIZ has three distinct features 1) it is a plug-in mechanism able to accelerate the manipulation of objects, which doesn't skip frames when you are manipulating very large models, and 2) collaboration and annotation -- within the 3D model you can include text, circle information, create slide shows. You can send the model to coworkers with suggested changes. Because it's a 3D model environment, the person receiving the model can manipulate it in AutoCAD. 3) There is a special file format that is called .VIZ that uses a high compression mechanism for the file. If you have a large model file of approximately 100 MB, sending that via email to someone in another office or sharing it on the network drive becomes a problem. AEC|VIZ allows you to seamlessly transfer the model between AutoCAD and AEC|VIZ from the AEC|VIZ interface. You can save the file as .VIZ, it will include the 3D model, the annotation, the slide show, walkthroughs, minipresentations, etc., and it will compress that to 100s of KBs instead of MBs, for example, then you can easily attach that to an email and send it over. The receiver can view the model and communicate back and forth easily because the file is much smaller. You can also save the file as executable, then the person receiving doesn't need AutoCAD or AEC|VIZ, because AEC|VIZ is encapsulated in the exe.

Alain Thiffault, global software product manager of Matrox, explains that the communication between AEC|VIZ and AutoCAD ARX type applications allows transfer of 3D data to the viewer. The viewer has been highly optimized for performance with Parhelia with really high frame rates, so that it interacts with really large models. Once it moves the camera position around or into the model it tells AutoCAD to move specifically to that position and avoids times when the really large model saturates the CPU and the graphics hardware stands idle. When this happens, the designer can only get a few frames a second and it is difficult to manipulate the object.

The new breed of CAD "Building Information Modeling" software will do fine with this display technology, because as Thiffault says, the intelligent information, whether graphical or non-graphical, resides in their applications. You can display different views of a 3D model and the intelligent information on different monitors, or display email or collaboration software on another and not need to "switch" between views. No view is obstructed, and this information can be spread across three different monitors.

"Sometimes you have several different documents that are needed to qualify a design -- specifications from a customer, city guidelines that you have to follow, existing design elements -- and you need to reference all of them for the project," says Thiffault.

For more than 25 years, Matrox Graphics Inc. has been the manufacturer of 2D/3D and video graphics accelerators, and pioneered the DualHead technology, fully-symmetric multi-display support from a single graphics chip, that is able to display dual analog outputs at 2048 x1536, or dual digital outputs at 1600 x 1200 with independent gamma-correctable hardware overlays. With Matrox's TripleHead feature, three displays can be powered from a single chip, stretching the desktop real estate to a maximum resolution of 3840 x 1024.

Matrox enters the CAD market with the intention of bringing the expertise they built in the corporate and financial markets, following through with Matrox certified and ISV certified applications. They recently received a certification for MicroStation which will be announced in the near future. Because the requirements of each 3D workstation application are so unique, Matrox performs both in-house and ISV certification for key applications and those certified applications are listed on the web site.

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