Sunday, April 30, 2017

NVIDIA Quadro P5000 for AEC VR; Best Architectural Experience Yet

LHB has been using virtual reality (VR) a lot over the last year and I am heading up that effort. We are using it for everything from internal design review to public meetings, groundbreakings and grand openings.

VR at Grand Opening for Duluth Transportation Center

VR Across Disciplines

While architecture is the main use case, we have used VR for multiple civil projects (urban street & utilities project and a historic bridge restoration project) and fairly complex pipeline projects (pump stations).

For more on our urban street project and our use of the Quadro P5000, check out these two NVIDIA links:

VR Model of Urban Street and Utilities Replacement Project

Graphics Card is the Bottleneck for VR Experience

We use various VR hardware and software; Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Enscape, Fuzor, Revizto, Regardless of the combination of these, the bottle neck in performance is the graphics card (GPU). I have used several NVIDIA cards for VR, for example:

  • GeForce GTX 980
  • GeForce GTX 1070 (in my Alienware laptop)
  • GeForce GTX 1070 x 2 SLI (in our VR Lounge)
  • GeForce GTX 1080
  • Quadro P5000

The Quadro P5000 has produced the absolute best experience in VR for our complex projects. When we got this card I expected the improvement, if any, to be moderate. I was amazed at the significant improvement, even over the SLI'ed setup in out VR Lounge (more on this later).

When I first realized the difference, I had these two systems setup right next to each other:

  • HTC Vive powered by a Dell Percision 5810 with the Quadro P5000
  • HTC Vive powered by an Alienware Area 51 with the GTX 1070 x 2 (SLI)
I tested the same large complex model; a school with complete structure, MEP and a detailed food service model. The SLI'ed setup was choppy and uncomfortable compared to the P5000, which was very smooth and responsive.

Clearly the magic of the P5000 comes from the GPU's Pascal architecture, 2560 CUDA cores and 16 GB of GDDR5X memory! Yes, you read that correctly, 16 GB of on-board memory.
NVIDIA Quadro P5000 Specs
Another great thing about a VR Ready Quadro-based graphics card is that many large computer manufactures do not offer consumer grade hardware, such as the GeForce cards, with their lease programs. Given many medium to large AEC firms buy via lease programs, getting a VR capable card meant ordering a computer without a graphics card and then buying the graphic card separately. This complicates things, including service/warranty programs.

Even though the Quadro P5000 card has a high MSRP compared to the GeForce GTX cards it is often the case that hardware and software are much less when purchased as a package from Dell, HP, etc.

Fuzor Leverages NVIDIA Features to Maximize Performance

We have been using Fuzor a lot with the HTC Vive for its nice array of in-VR user features. For the NVIDIA Customer Story listed above, the folks at Kalloc Tech gave me this list, which highlights the NVIDIA features directly supported by Fuzor:
  • Features which only work on NVIDIA cards
    • VR SLI support using NVIDIA VRWorks, where each video card renders one eye.
    • Multi-projection support from NVIDIA VRWorks, where a single NVIDIA Pascal series card can render two eyes simultaneously.
    • Fast and accurate light analysis reports using NVIDIA OptiX raytracing.
    • Multi-threaded rendering using DirectX11 Driver Command Lists for faster performance.

  • Features which work on any card, but were created by NVIDIA
    • PhysX for avatar walkthrough, vehicle driving, refit collision, clash detection, and filtered scene queries for many different features.
    • NVIDIA ShadowWorks for high quality ambient occlusion.

Thus, for the dual GTX 1070 (SLI) cards in our VR Lounge, there is one card for each eye in the Head Mounted Display (HMD). But, even this setup does not keep up with the Quadro P5000!

A Look at the Hardware

I want to share my experience setting up the Quadro P5000, which replaced a GeForce GTX 1080 in a Dell Precision 5810 (this is the computer we take on the road). With this information in hand, anyone can jump right in and start leveraging the full potential of this card for VR.

As seen in the image below, the form factor of the P5000 and 1080 is pretty much the same.

Quadro P5000 and GeForce GTX 1080 Have Similar Form Factors

The biggest surprise I had when opening the P5000 is when I noticed there was no HDMI port on a VR Ready graphics card; compare the two images below. More on this in a moment...

GeForce GTX 1080; 1 HDMI, 3 Display Port, 1 DVI

Quadro P5000; 4 Dusplay Port, 1 DVI

The next image shows the GeForce GTX 1080, which is about to be removed.

GeForce GTX 1080 in Dell Precision 5810

Here is the Quadro P5000 seated and powered.

Quadro P5000  in Dell Precision 5810
Both cards require an adapter to properly power them. This cable came with the GTX cards, and was already in some of our Dell computers but was not in use as the Quadro M2200 GPU did not need this much power.

Required Power Adapter for Both

DisplayPort to HDMI 1.4 or DVI to HDMI 1.4
Back to the no HDMI port issue... the NVIDIA website lists two tested Video Adapters;

  • Accell B086B-004B-2
  • Bizlink KS10046-A07

This is the one I ordered from Amazon: (see the next two images). This is required for full transmission of audio and video.

I started with multiple adapters I had on hand; DP > DVI > HDMI. This worked, but there was no sound.

DP to HDMI - Required Video Adapter for P5000 (not included)

DP to HDMI - Required Video Adapter for P5000 (not included)

LHB's VR Lounge

In our Duluth office, we remodeled an underutilized space to create a VR Lounge. The large "lounge" space adjacent to the "play area" allows others to see what the VR user sees on the large 4k screen on the wall. The "play area" is in an alcove, which is perfect as it naturally keeps people out of the way of the line-of-sight sensors.

LHB VR Lounge - Large 4k screen on wall

LHB VR Lounge - Lake Superior Visible from Here!

LHB VR Lounge

LHB VR Lounge with Built-in HTC Vive Sensors; Dual GTX 1070's

VR in the Media

We have received a lot of attention from the media given our extensive use of VR and recent presentation on VR at the Minnesota AIA Convention.

The image below is reporter Melissa Colorado from Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE11 trying the HTC Vive in our Minneapolis office. Check out this link for her story:

The ABC affiliate in Duluth, MN, WDIO, has done two stories on our use of VR recently:

Minneapolis Start Tribune article: Virtual reality brings architect's blueprints to life

Finally, check out this ARCHITECT Magazine article, Michael Kilkelly, in which I was interview for:


At the end of the day, if a large complex project is not comfortable for staff or your client, they are not going to spend much time using it. Given all the other challenges of keeping drivers and software up to date, having this high performance, engineering-grade, graphics card is simply wonderful. I have felt a lot more comfortable getting in front of clients, the media and even the Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith recently!

For some additional reading on this topic, check out this AEC Magazine article which gets into more technical details on the Quadro P5000's big brother, the P6000 (with 24 GB of memory):

Fun stuff.