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home : reviews : Matrox Parhelia 512 Preview : page 2

Benjamin Sun
May 14, 2002

The Parhelia 512
Today, Matrox is launching their first true "3d Gamers" card since the G400 Max, the Matrox Parhelia. According to Dictionary.com a Parhelia is the plural of: A mock sun appearing in the form of a bright light, sometimes near the sun, and tinged with colors like the rainbow, and sometimes opposite to the sun. The latter is usually called an anthelion. Often several mock suns appear at the same time Picture a shot of the sun in the middle with 2 mock suns on either side. In fact, that is the logo Matrox is using for the Parhelia, 3 suns. Here take a look at the logo.Matrox concentrated on Quality, Performance and Features in the Parhelia based board solutions.To achieve the highest-fidelity graphics, Parhelia-512 has been designed with tremendous attention to detail paid to every aspect of the graphics pipeline. Also stressed by Matrox is the performance aspect of the Parhelia. With massive memory bandwidth and a colossal array of 3D processing elements, Parhelia-512 delivers the fastest 2D, Microsoft® DirectX® 8, OpenGL 1.3 and DVD performance.The Parhelia brings a lot of new features to consumer based gaming videocards that either havent't been seen in this marketplace, are equal to existing solutions or improve upon existing solutions such as the GeForce4 Ti4600 or RADEON 8500. Here's a list of the key features of the Parhelia 512.

Unparalleled Visual Quality features
  • 10-bit GigaColor Technology
  • UltraSharp Display Output Technology
  • 64 Super Sample Texture Filtering
  • Glyph Antialiasing
  • 16x Fragment Antialiasing
Performance Features
  • 512-bit GPU with 256bit DDR interface
  • Quad DirectX 9 Vertex Shaders
  • Quad Texturing
  • 36-Stage Shader Array
Distinct Innovative Features
  • Hardware Displacement Mapping
  • Surround Gaming
  • DualHead- High Fidelity
  • TripleHead Desktop Mode
  • PC-Theater DVD Playback
  • Matrox PowerDesk-High Fidelity
Quality Features

10-bit Gigacolor Technology
For the longest time now, 3d graphics in the consumer gaming card space has been limited to 32bit color- 8bit Red, 8 bit Green 8 bit Blue and a 8 bit alpha channel. The maximum number of displayed colors with 32bit color is 16.8 million colors. While this is nice, game developers and graphics hardware will start to move beyond 32bit colors this year. The Parhelia is one of the first videocards with support for greater than 32bit precision, 10 bit per component (RGB) precision.

Matrox has coined the term Gigacolor for the new technology. A Gigabyte is a billion bytes, so in this sense, the word means over a billion colors are possible on the Parhelia! To put this into perspective 2 bit color is 16 color, 4bit color is 64 colors, 8bit color is 256 colors, 16 bit color is a pallette of 32,768 colors 32bit color is 16.8 million colors. This means richer, brighter colors with a wider range of possible colors than simple 32bit or 16 bit color.

Ultra Sharp Display Output Technology
Building on Matrox's unparalleled display output quality, Parhelia-512's display output subsystem integrates a sophisticated new design that delivers the highest-fidelity RGB, DVI and TV outputs. High-precision RAMDACs and advanced design techniques ensure that signal quality is maintained at the highest frequency desktop settings, resulting in flicker-free, ultra-crisp displays, free of any pixel ghosting, sparkling or shadowing artifacts. These techniques, combined with the most highly developed electronics and filters, deliver the highest-quality analog, digital and TV outputs - Matrox's best ever.

Matrox has included 2 400mhz Ramdacs on the Parhelia. The quality of their output display has been extensively tested in their labs for frequency response, and Hsync jitter against the RADEON 8500 and GeForce4 Ti4400. The results, showed that the Parhelia 512 has the best results of all three cards, with the GeForce4 coming second and the RADEON 8500 showing wild variations in Hsync jitter (up to 33% off it's specified position while the GeForce4 showing up to 14%. The Parhelia 512 had a Hsync jitter of only 3.5% maximum, showing the highest fidelity of where the pixel should be.

64 Sample Super Sample Texture Filtering
Parhelia-512 integrates the world's most advanced texture filtering units allowing for the dynamic allocation of up to 64 texture samples per clock-double the number available on competing GPUs. These samples can be flexibly allocated to provide higher quality texture filtering with minimal performance impact. For example, the 64 samples could be arranged to deliver:
  • Dual-textured pixels with trilinear filtering at the same performance as dual-textured pixels with bilinear filtering
  • Dual-textured pixels with 16-sample anisotropic filtering at comparable performance to dual-textured pixels with trilinear filtering on competing GPUs.
  • With 64 Super Sample Texture Filtering, Parhelia-512 is able to offer a higher quality 3D experience without the performance penalty suffered on other GPUs.
The GeForce4 Ti4600, by example does 16 texture samples in a single clock.

Glyph Anti-Aliasing
Text antialiasing. Two words you haven't heard much about before from a graphics card manufacturer. Microsoft, in Windows 2000 and XP has integrated text antialiasing as a standard feature. On most previous cards, this was done in software, on the Parhelia 512, it's done in hardware with support for full gamma correction. While other cards have hardware text antialiasing, they don't have programmable gamma correction, allowing users to set the preferences as they like.

16x Fragment Antialiasing
Aliasing refers to "staircasing" or "jaggies" on the edges of pixels in a game. Modern antialiasing methods take several subpixel samples from a pixel and blend the results together to form the final pixel. The problem with this method is that performance drops dramatically (in simplistic terms (individual methods may vary slightly better or worse) 50% for 2x SuperSample Antialiasing and 75% in 4 sample AA) because you're antialiasing the entire screen. Remember that aliasing mostly occurs on the edges of a pixel which makes up only about 3-5% of the total pixel.

The Parhelia has the ability to only antialias the edges of a pixel. So only 3-5% of the pixel is actually antialiased. This can result in very fast AA compared to other methods such as NVIDIA's Multisampling antialiasing and other card's supersampling antialiasing. With 20GB of memory bandwith, the Parhelia is likely to incur a performance penalty of only 3-5% when 16x edge AA is turned on, which is dramatic, when you consider that a GeForce4 Ti4600, for example takes up to a 66% performance hit in Serious Sam going from no AA to 4x AA.

Most games will run with this type of antialiasing, but there may be some games that can't because of the way they're programmed. Older games may not be able to run with this method on. To ensure compatibility with antialiasing turned on, Matrox has included up to 4x supersample full scene antialiasing on the Parhelia 512. With 2x the memory bandwidth of the GeForce4 Ti4600, the performance with 4x FSAA should be far faster. We'll have to wait for the final cards to gauge the performance hit with FSAA turned on in games, but I'm very hopeful.

Here's some screenshots from Flight Simulator 2002. Notice how smooth 16x FAA looks compared to no AA on the wings. Matrox also states that MSAA, such as used on the GeForce4, introuduces blurring in games. I'm not going to comment on that, except that I only really noticed such blurring when Quincunx is enabled. In any event, there's more to the Parhelia than just antialiasing and the other Quality features there's also performance features.

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