The goal of computer graphics, Hewlett-Packard executive Lewis E. Platt declared in his opening address to the National Computer Graphics Assn. convention in Anaheim on Monday, must be to create images that are "better than reality."
A tall order, to be sure. But not quite as absurd as it sounds. What's better than being able to see an object? Being able to see into the middle of it, to see it in different light, to see it from any angle--all at the touch of a button. And while the images on the screens in Anaheim were not quite as good as photos, they were being twirled and flipped and turned inside out with abandon.
Many of the companies at the show, including Irvine-based Zenographics Inc., focus on software systems that can turn personal computers into graphics machines. These products allow the creation of fancy-looking reports, for example, at a modest price--$295 to $1,700 for the Zenographics software. Laser-graphics, also of Irvine, sells products that let you put the graphic images straight onto slides.
But other graphics applications are far more demanding. Silicon Graphics, a Mountain View, Calif., firm with nearly $400 million in revenue, sells its high-powered graphics processors for $95,000. They are used for such things as flight simulators: a computer-generated image of an airplane flying through computer-generated mountains and valleys, responding just as a plane would to a touch of the controls.
These capabilities are gradually becoming accessible, even to smaller companies. For example, the low-end Silicon Graphics system is really a "super-PC" that sells for about $15,000. "People want to visualize their work," said Deborah Miller, a Silicon Graphics vice president. "Visual processing will do for images what word processing did for words and data processing did for numbers."