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home : reviews : RADEON 8500DV : page 3

Benjamin Sun
March 19, 2002

A word on drivers
For purposes of this review, I will cover both the 7203 drivers provided on the installation CD and the latest 9013 beta Windows ME drivers on ATI's website. While it's always good to show performance and compatibility with the latest drivers it's also important to show the out of the box experience with the drivers that are officially supported. Not everyone downloads and installs beta drivers nor installs drivers at all.

The 7203 drivers included on the installation CD are a mixed bag really. The first thing to notice when installation of these drivers is that SmoothVision isn't enabled. SmoothVision is ATI's implementation of full scene anti-aliasing which I will discuss a little later in this review in more detail. It's a little disappointing that there currently aren't any officially supported ME drivers with this awesome feature enabled. The second problem with the 7203 drivers is I've experienced crashes when playing games like MDK2 and a couple of other games including Commanche4 and Pool Of Radiance. Also present in the 7203 drivers is the Quake3 optimization bug, in which visual quality is noticeably degraded compared to other videocards and drivers.

As a gamer, I usually use the latest beta drivers available on ATI's site. But it is important to note that I'm a little disappointed in the officially supported drivers release. ATI has not, as of yet, upgraded their ME drivers for the AIW 8500DV. If SmoothVision was enabled in the official drivers and the Quake3 issue was fixed, I could live with it. Unfortunately, they're not.

Charisma Engine II
The Charisma Engine from the original RADEON, was the Hardware T+L unit. While the RADEON was capable of a maximum of 30 million polygons per second T+L performance, the RADEON 8500 has the capability to process more than 60 million polygons per second, making it currently the most powerful GPU in terms of polygon pushing performance available. The GeForce3, by way of example has a maximum of 50 million polygons/second theoretical performance, however, due to the RADEON 8500 supporting parallel use of their fixed function vertex shader as well as their programmable vertex shader at the same time, real-time performance of the 8500 is much higher than the GeForce3.

Also part of the Charisma Engine II is the vertex shader unit of the RADEON 8500. The vertex shader of the 8500 is fully DX8 vertex shader 1.1 compliant. If a program or game requires a vertex shader program under DX8, the 8500 can perform the shader operation. So what features does the vertex shader support? First, is Matrix Pallette Skinning with up to 32 matrices per draw pass.

What is MPS you might ask? Good question. Many games today are starting to use a skeletal animation system to move characters in-game. Matrox Pallete Skinning deforms and animates complex geometry using matrices or control points. The control points are analogous to bones, muscles  in a human face or body. Attached to the skin, bones, and muscles cause lip movement and expression. When animating a character's face, for example, the 3d matrices can be used like bones and muscle to achieve realistic animation. The RADEON 8500 has 192 constant registers for MPS.  This more than meets the DX8 vertex shader requirements for MPS.

So how can you use MPS? Imagine a talking head in a game's cinematics. Today, most game's facial animations are merely up and down movements. Take a look at a recent game like No One Lives Forever. While the game uses ingame cinematics, the movement of the face when they're talking isn't exactly life-like. MPS may soon allow a game designer to put your face in the game, use MPS to smoothly animate it, and have a real talking head in a game. (Unfortunately, we're not there yet. To frown a face needs 43 bones, to smile 17 bones (a scientific fact) but we're getting there. Stay tuned to my upcoming Matrox G550 review where I go into even more detail on this)

ATI is including a "talking head" application with the 8500 software bundle. Using software from a company called LifeFX, the application allows the user to have a realistic "avatar".  You can send email with the lifelike avatar speaking the email. Unfortunately, I don't have a 8500 as of yet, so describing how it works in practice is impossible at this time. You can find out more information on LifeFX by clicking here.

Many objects in the real world change shape according to simple mathematical functions. These functions can be modeled using vertex shaders and applied to the position of each vertex in an object to create highly realistic, procedural animation. This has a wide range of applications including water waves, flags and capes that blow in the wind, and wobbling objects like soap bubbles.

Shadows are a very important part of any scene, since they help convey a sense of depth and atmosphere. Vertex shaders provide a simple way of generating convincing shadows that can be fully animated and extended to multiple light sources. The shader is used to create transparent volumes that extend behind objects away from any light sources, creating shadows where the volumes contact other surfaces. The closer the light source is to the shadow-casting object, the darker the shadow is.

Other vertex shader effects include fur rendering: which allows for realistic fur on any object that can be made to curl or blow in the wind if desired, particle systems, lens effects: distort an image as if it were being viewed through a lens, and advanced keyframe interpolation: perform animation and morphing effects using non-linear blending between two or more keyframes.

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