As i see it, a next generation card should contain the following features:
Today at Comdex, 3dfx announced both the Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 cards. And while this site is not dedicated to 3D acceleration,
i still think i have a few valid points to make about the 3D industry as it currently stands.
Let me first start by saying that for the last three months, i have been using a TNT2 card from creative. While the TNT
architecture is quite solid for 3D, it has awful 2D support. It's 2D acceleration is below par of even the ATI Rage
Pro card. It's slower, and at least on my Creative TNT2 card, the image is not as clear as my old ATI Rage Pro card, heck
with a 300mhz RAMDAC, it can't even achieve the refresh rates of my old ATI Rage Pro card.
And now I am reading all this interesting information regarding a whole crop of new cards being released by nVidia, ATI, S3,
3dfx and others. And the first thing i notice about these cards is the hype. I have never seen so many lies and untruths
being told by these card manufacturers.
For me it all started when the TNT2 and Voodoo3 cards were released. Right on the boxes of some of these cards you could see
the words "DVD Acceleration". Now, there are currently 3 ways you could accelerate DVD. The first and most popular
would be to acceleration a function called Motion Compensation. This is by far the most popular DVD acceleration
available on the market to date. You can find it in cards from ATI, S3 and SiS, possibly from other less well known
manufacturers. The second DVD acceleration hardware is iDCT acceleration. You can find iDCT acceleration on ATI 128,
SiS cards. And the third acceleration is the CSS decryption algorithm. You can only find this kind of acceleration on
dedicated decoder cards as it's not overly CPU intensive to justify acceleration.
And then there is the Voodoo and TNT acceleration. Both nVidia and 3dfx claim to have some obscure acceleration in there,
heck, it's practically written on the box. But what nVidia and 3dfx claim to be DVD acceleration is in actuality MPEG-1
acceleration which has been part of the hardware of almost every display adaptor since 1995. Not only that, but in fact the
TNT and TNT2 until recently had a serious bug in either their drivers or hardware which disabled smooth hardware scaling
of 2D video sequences. Amazingly enough, this bug was somehow fixed or bypassed when nVidia released their first official
GeForce driver. My best guess is that this was some sort of hardware bug which was bypassed using a driver tweak. Im
basing this guess as it seems that generating the overlay surface required for smooth video scaling now
takes more video memory. The date of this "fix" stinks a bit as it comes way too late for TNT owners and right on the
heel of the GeForce release.
When the GeForce was released, it officially announced the second age of the Hype Wars. Once again nVidia and now 3dfx
are claiming DVD acceleration, and once more i feel the stench of hype obscuring the actual existence of DVD acceleration
What makes me laugh is, every once in a while you would see a 3D card review with a small tid-bit of DVD information,
usually saying "This card rox, has great DVD quality". The thing is, all these testers are running their fine little
tests on 600-800mhz machines that can in fact, play DVD without any acceleration what-so-ever. These sites should
instead dust off their old 233mhz machines and then see which card works best. Currently, other than the ATI 128 based
cards, all other cards would cough up a lung trying to play on such a machine.
Beside the DVD issue, I see a serious problem with the fragmentation of the 3D display market. As of this
point, there is not a single card in existence that has the minimum requirements to be the card i would pay the 300$
price tag the new series of cards demand.
1) Fill rate fast enough to sustain at least 30fps at 1024x768 with full-scene anti-aliasing enabled.
2) Transform and Lighting fast enough to sustain at least 30fps with 100,000 on-screen polygons.
3) Support for real bump mapping (environment).
4) Support for hardware Texture Compression.
Now some of you may say that 60fps is required, and i admit that a game appears smoother at 60fps, but
personally i am more into the cinematic feel of a game and would trade off a faster fill rate for a much
higher image quality.
I don't think that such a card is impossible, the most annoying this is, each 3D card is trying to identify itself
by only trying to push forward one of the above specifications and trying to herald it as the thing to have.
The fact is, you may have the best fill rate and thus full scene anti-aliasing, but your characters and environment
would look flat and cubic as most games appear today. You could have the hardware Transform and Lighting, but without
the fast fill rate, your characters will appear smooth, but the pixels will pop since no anti-aliasing is applied to
them. And of course, to make your character more realistic, you would need both bump mapping and texture compression,
since without texture compression, you could never hold enough high-resolution textures within your card's video memory
to make the environment look realistic.
In conclusion, the current crop of display adaptors are simply not it. They are simply not the ones to make the big change
in the industry. Sure, they will be faster, and look a little better, but don't hold your breath. Lets hope that
they will get it right next time. At the rate the industry is moving, that will be in around 4-8 month, see ya there.
If you are planning to buy a new card for DVD acceleration, don't listen to the hype and do a bit of research first.