The Playstation 2 could apparently handle real-time ray-tracing
Ray-tracing is set to become a need-to-have feature in gaming, with both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X featuring dedicated ray-tracing hardware. The technology will help elevate ninth-gen visuals by enabling more realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections.
But what was nearly lost to history is the revelatory fact that the PlayStation 2 was capable of performing real-time ray-tracing on its vector units (VUs), using a mere 16 KB of memory. An obscure video from the 2002 SCEE Assembly 2002 seminar was uncovered, showcasing a range of real-time PS2 tech demos.
Of particular interest is "Don't Touch the Sphere," which shows a ray-traced sphere on a multi-colored surface. While the demo is extremely simple, what's particularly interesting is that the ray-tracing wasn't done on the PS2's CPU at all. It was a pure vector unit operation.
The fact that PS2 resources were left on tap during the demo raises tantalizing questions about what could have been: could the PS2 have run extremely simple Marble Blast style games with ray-tracing? We'll never know now.
What's important is that this demo, like Crytek's Neon Noir demo, proves that ray-tracing isn't necessarily dependent on specialist hardware. As with any visual effect, ray-tracing performance depends in large part on how it's implemented.
A simple implementation like "Don't Touch the Sphere" will run readily on sixth-gen hardware. However, more complex Pixar-grade ray-tracing effects are still out of reach for all consumer hardware, RTX cards included.