The more realistic game graphics and character movements afforded by workstation-class 3D technology moved farther into the mainstream this week at the WinHec 2000 show in New Orleans.
On Tuesday, ATI unveiled the technical details of the Radeon 256 graphics processor - its answer to NVidia's GeForce 256, which proved a milestone in PC graphics processors when it was introduced last Autumn. NVidia came right back on Wednesday with a major upgrad - the GeForce 2 GTS - that significantly boosts performance and will be available in boards next month.
The Radeon 256 uses ATI's new Charisma Engine and is the company's first chip to support hardware transformation and lighting, meaning it has a geometry engine handling transformation, or altering 3D objects for display on a 2D screen, and dynamic lighting. ATI's transformation and lighting engine also provides a clipping function to remove extraneous information that won't be displayed. When used with games and other applications that support them, these functions help make the light and shadows on graphical objects appear more like those in the real world.
Another feature called "vertex skinning" makes the surfaces of objects, including the skin of game characters, smoother and less likely to split apart unrealistically during movement, says Niles Burbank, an ATI group product manager. "I characterize them as things that promote greater realism in a scene," Burbank says.
The Radeon 256 is also among the first chips to break the gigatexel barrier (the capability to render over 1 billion pixels per second) by providing a fill rate of up to 1.5 billion pixels per second. That fill rate is more than three times that of the GeForce 256 but is actually a hair less than the GeForce 2 GTS's 1.6-gigatexel fill rate. These high fill rates will let game developers program more realistic images without making a heavy performance tradeoff.
The Radeon 256 chip also includes support for high-definition television, adaptive de-interlacing (a technique that makes videos sharper and less prone to a shimmying effect called feathering), and up to 128MB of double-data-rate memory at 200 MHz, according to ATI. The GeForce 2 GTS will also support up to 128MB of DDR memory, with a 200-MHz core clock and a 333-MHz DDR clock.