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ULTIMATE Video Card Guide
New games demand more of video cards and their memory; bigger textures, more triangles, and various other new means of hardware acceleration to look good and still run at playable speeds.
Filed under: Video Cards Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: Various Jul 18 2000   D. Dee  
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Present and future hardware features

Present and future hardware features

I fully expect that that in less than a year, and possibly in less than six months, there will be video cards that can push 60 frames per second in Quake 3 Arena at 1600x1200 at High Quality settings. Of course there will be newer games by then that are even more demanding of video cards, but since game programmers generally design their games based on what technology they expect to be available, we don't have much to worry about. Still, there are some tricks that I think all 3D chip designers will eventually want to incorporate, preferably sooner than later.

One trick that would really help standard cards would be using some kind of hardware filtering system that would prevent the card from wasting fill rate by drawing anything that won't be visible in the final scene. Plenty of fill rate is wasted on objects that will be covered up by other (opaque) objects that are in front of them. If such a technology could be implemented, that rendering power could be used to run the display at higher resolutions. The PowerVR series of video chips already accomplishes this using a different rendering method than other cards, but for various reasons these cards don't hold, and have never held, the performance lead.

In a year or so, 1600x1200 with 32-bit color in today's games will be easy for even budget video cards. Not everyone even has a monitor that can run 1600x1200 in the first place. For the most part, only monitors 19" and bigger, and a few 17" monitors, support such a resolution. Most users have 17" or even 15" monitors, and would have trouble reading some game text at even 1280x1024 resolution. For those of us who can't practically use very high resolutions but want similar image quality, there's FSAA.

Hardware FSAA, or Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing, is a method of reducing the "stairstep" effect of rendered lines that aren't perfectly horizontal or vertical. This "stairstep" effect is most evident at low resolutions, but in some cases is still noticeable at even 1600x1200. Note that anti-aliasing can't fully remove this effect due to the fact that screen pixels are more or less square, but it can help make it look like the edge is smooth to the human eye. This is accomplished by changing the color of pixels near the edge to blend in with the background, so it looks to us humans that the jagged edge is gone, or at least significantly reduced. FSAA can be performed in software (by the CPU), but it's definitely best if the video card has its own dedicated FSAA hardware. Doing anything in software tends to put a large burden on the CPU and often reduces performance considerably. FSAA is appealing for several reasons. First, and probably most important, it isn't necessary for the game's software to support FSAA since it's handled by the video card drivers and hardware. So FSAA can be turned on for any game, new or old, and make it look better.

This allows older games that only supported fairly low resolutions to look much better than they ever could have before. Second, FSAA allows a scene to look about as good as it would at a very high resolution even at low resolution, like 640x480 or 800x600. Not only does this help those with smaller monitors that can't handle very high resolutions, but it also can be used to keep game text from being too small to read. Third, multiple FSAA settings are available, so one can experiment with various resolutions and FSAA settings to determine which combination he thinks gives the best balance of performance and visual quality.

There are two hardware FSAA implementations currently used by PC video cards, and there's a good explanation of them here on FiringSquad, so go read that page now since I don't want to rehash it here.

As you might guess, OGSS, the method used by everyone except 3dfx, involves more work since it has to deal with a lot more pixels. Thus, its speed tends to be penalized significantly. RGSS/JGSS usually involves less work, and many consider its final image quality to be better than that gained by using OGSS. Not everyone agrees when it comes to comparing these methods, but the general consensus is that RGSS/JGSS is better. Download some Targa files from reviews on other sites and compare them yourself. Or send me a Voodoo5 5500 and a GeForce2 GTS board so I can compare them, and I'll be quite glad to post some comparison screen captures.

FSAA is a really nice feature, but current video c
ards really don't have enough power to use it except at low resolutions. It's best suited for games that don't require high frame rates, because FSAA does incur a significant performance hit, and currently isn't useful for resolutions higher than 800x600 simply because the frame rate would be too low on today's cards. Future cards with higher fill rates and more memory will be capable of using FSAA with higher resolutions, however, and some kind of hardware FSAA will probably be found on all non-budget video chips next year.

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Contents of Article: Various
 Pg 1.  ULTIMATE Video Card Guide
 Pg 2.  NVidia's chips
 Pg 3.  Diverging Paths
 Pg 4.  — Present and future hardware features
 Pg 5.  More present and future hardware features
 Pg 6.  Interfaces
 Pg 7.  Keeping up
 Pg 9.  More players

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