Interview: James Knight, AMD, about VR and AR

Posted on by Larry

creativityThe world of Virtual Reality (VR) and its cousin, Augmented Reality (AR), continue to expand.

Last week, I spoke with James Knight, the Virtual Production Director at AMD about the new worlds of VR and AR, along with the hardware necessary to bring them about.

There are two issues with VR: technical/hardware and creative. While I am skeptical that VR will be successful in the long-term for story-telling, I do belive that it can create magical immersive environments for things like games, historical recreations, or anything else where you need to get a sense of being in a place.

AR (Augmented Reality) is even more interesting, not necessarily in story-telling, but in enhancing real-life. Whether this means pointing your phone at an object to learn more about it, enhancing a historical ruin by overlaying an image of what it looked like in its heyday, or looking at the stars and seeing a map of the constellations, AR has an exciting future of explaining the world around us.

But both of these technologies require a major leap in hardware to enable to them to function in real-time. That is where AMD comes in. They make CPUs and GPUs that power these technologies.

I started our conversation by asking James what he thought about the long-term prospects for both these technologies. “Both VR and AR will be successful,” he replied, “though AR will be more common. VR allows us to escape our world – that’s its big benefit – while AR enhances our world.”

“At AMD, we create tools for technology, then let creative storytellers figure out the best way to use it.”

When I asked him whether VR will win in the long-term, James replied: “I don’t think it’s a question of winning. VR doesn’t alter filmmaking, it is an additional tool to enhance filmmaking. I think VR is part of the future, but not totally the future. Also, keep in mind that editing VR today is much harder than editing a traditional film.”

I had a chance to see some of AMDs newest GPU products at the recent NAB show, which was the springboard to this conversation. When I talked with James last week, AMD was focused on its Windows and Linux products. There are interesting things happening on the Mac side, but AMD declined to talk about them at this time.


I told James that when people ask me what type of computer to get, my recommendation is to get the most RAM and fastest GPU they can afford, then aim for a mid-range CPU. I asked whether he agreed with that advice. “I do,” he said.

“You also want to look at a GPU that has lots of on-board RAM. Why? Because having RAM directly attached to the GPU allows you to move around in a scene in real-time. This means you can make changes to all your digital assets, then flow playback seamlessly and render in realtime. More onboard RAM speeds compute time by bypassing the PCI bus. RAM that’s within the GPU allows for faster access because its closer to the GPU, which speeds rendering.”

“Actually, the GPU size is not the main consideration. The bigger consideration is the size of the screen. The footprint of the computer can and does get smaller, but the size of the display changes our needs for the GPU. The more pixels you need to move on the screen, the beefier the GPU needs to be.”

When I asked him what we should expect for the life-span of a GPU, he replied: “Look to upgrade CPUs, motherboards and GPUs every two years. Things tend to get smaller and faster over time.” This is not to say that the boards themselves will wear out in that time, rather, “innovations are rapid and content-creators are looking for ‘the best.’ You kind of need to keep up with the Joneses. A professional, high-end GPU for VFX or editing, should be good for a couple of years.”

How would he sum up? “We want our gear to work at the speed of our imagination – we are focused on creating limitless creative experiences.”


The annual SIGGRAPH show is returning to Anaheim, CA, starting July 25. AMD will have new products to show, along with new ideas to talk about. I’ll be attending the show and share what I learn.

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