This is an impressive video purporting to demo Unlimited Detail, a new way for rendering graphics so that they're detailed far beyond current, standard methods. Watch in HD mode for the full effect:
[R]ather than working with a limited number of polygon shapes (restricted, of course, by computing power), a graphic environment could be built from an infinite number of 3-D virtual atoms, much like the physical world... Unlimited Detail circumvents the computing power problem, [Euclideon CEO Bruce] Dell says, by acting like a search engine that figures out, in real time, which points need to be rendered to create a certain view from a certain perspective. So only the “atoms” that are being viewed in a given frame from a certain perspective are actually rendered at any given time.
3D graphics innovator John Carmack says the technology is potentially feasible in the near future: "[N]o chance of a game on current gen systems, but maybe several years from now."
Update, 12:30PM: Readers in Comments noted that Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson thinks this demo is a scam. Specifically, "[Euclideon] made a voxel renderer... It’s a very pretty and very impressive piece of technology, but... they’re pretending like what they’re doing is something new and impressive."
So why does John Carmack seem to think it would be feasible? I just asked him, and here's what he told me, adding a tantalizing hint of what he might be planning in the near future:
"I don't disagree with anything Notch said.
"I do not think non-polygonal renderers will be the winning choice in the next five years, but someone will probably have a go at it and learn something.
"I write a voxel tracer every five years or so..."
So there you have it. As I said, it's interesting Carmack mentions working on a voxel tracer in the same time frame that something like Unlimited Detail might be feasible (in his view.) Think he's planning to work on a voxel renderer that will do then what Unlimited Detail purports to do now?
Update 2, 9:30am: Last night I asked Carmack why he thinks it'll take 5 years for something like the Unlimited Detail demo to be feasible, and he kindly explained, also outlining his own plans for a voxel renderer:
"You can real time ray trace a static world on high end hardware today as a demo, but there is a long path between a demo and something that is competitive with rasterization in a real product. My plan for such technologies has always been to emit a depth buffer as well as color from the voxel/point cloud renderer and continue to use existing technologies for characters/particles/etc.
"It took us five years to go from a megatexture demo to a (almost) shipping game."
So in 5 years, we may see something like Unlimited Detail... only there's a good chance it'll come from Carmack's id Software. (I've re-titled this post to reflect these updates.)
Hat tip: Reddit and Taylor Schroeder.