Introduction

Now is an interesting time for PC gaming. With the release of NVIDIA's 7800 series as well as the upcoming ATI x1000 series graphics cards, the potential for graphics in games is only just starting to be realized. Games like F.E.A.R, Call of Duty 2, and Age of Empires 3 promise to take PC gaming to a new level graphically, and frankly, we couldn't be happier about it. We seem to have a similar situation right now of when ATI's RADEON 9700 series launched, and the new hardware allowed game developers the freedom to experiment with new ideas; therefore, creating a new generation of games. One particular graphics engine that has had an important impact for developers lately is Half life 2's Source engine, and though it has been around for a while now, the developers have recently decided to give the engine a bit of a face-lift, metaphorically speaking.

That's right, Valve has updated their source engine to enable something called High Dynamic Range, and the first two applications to implement this are Day of Defeat (a popular Half life 2 mod) and the upcoming new level for Half life 2: the Lost Coast. High dynamic range is basically a more realistic way to implement lighting in a three-dimensional world. With HDR, light sources will appear brighter, and other effects like blooming are possible. HDR, along with other things like auto-exposure, take lighting to a new level, further enhancing the realism of a virtual world. To give you a better idea of the concept behind HDR, here is a quote from Paul Debevec:
"The 'dynamic range' of a scene is the contrast ratio between its brightest and darkest parts. A plate of evenly-lit mashed potatoes outside on a cloudy day is low-dynamic range. The interior of an ornate cathedral with light streaming in through its stained-glass windows is high dynamic range. In fact, any scene in which the light sources can be seen directly is high dynamic range."
Obviously, one of the first things that we were concerned about regarding this upgrade was how this would affect performance. We weren't sure quite what to expect, but we did some testing on multiple ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards, and we'll take a look at the results later on. First, let's go a bit more in-depth into the technology.

Valve’s HDR Source Implementation
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  • 8NP4iN - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Yeah... where´s the shadows of those objects? Reply
  • ballero - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Seems to me it's Low-DR not High-DR. After playing Farcry and SC:CT the Valve' hdr looks like a step backwards... Reply
  • Questar - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/lostcoast....">http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/lostcoast....

    Reply
  • Leper Messiah - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    I think it looks a lot more realistic, while actually playing. The screenies don't do it justice.

    Just think though. Flashbangs with HDR. *cackle*
    Reply
  • Phantronius - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Thank god BF2 doesnt' have HDR or I woulda given up on it Reply
  • bob661 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    I would've just turned it off. Reply
  • yacoub - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    quote:

    In other words, in a real battle, the sun in your eyes will affect your aim, thus adding to the realism of the game.


    Yet when the goal is to win, the last thing I'd do is add something optional that impinges MY ability without equally affecting everyone else's. =

    So maybe in a singleplayer game or maybe if it was something in a couple years that is defaulted to ON and doesn't easily turn off, it would be useful. But really, graphical settings should never be optional if they directly impact the player's ability like that.

    That would be like returning to the days when people figured out you could turn off the FogOfWar or smoke effects so you could see the full draw distance and totally snipe people before they could even see you coming.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    valve says hdr gives an advantage because the contrast differences make it easier to spot players moving through the environment -- or something like that. Like a player who steps in front of a dark tunnel occludes the light outside and will really stand out.

    Personally, I don't think it's that useful or detrimental ... I do think it adds some pretty nice realizm to the scene in many places. This HDR implimentation is not perfect, but its better than many others out there.

    The balance is good in my opinion.
    Reply
  • route66 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Overrated.

    Developers need to find better usage of my CPU and GPU load than subtle lighting effects.
    Reply
  • segagenesis - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    More like too bad they didnt do this from the beginning with Half-Life 2 and it didnt look any better to me from the start. I wonder when people will ever get it in thier heads that graphics != gameplay. A game could have all these fancy smancy effects but if it still plays badly the graphics do NOT make up for it. Read: Doom 3.

    Concentrate on the game first, not the graphics.
    Reply

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