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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  • OvErHeAtInG - Saturday, October 01, 2005 - link

    The move to PCIe does make everything harder for them, though, as they would have to build a second box which would be as identical as possible except for a different motherboard, introducing a few potential inconsistencies. Other than that, my thoughts exactly.

    Although, frankly, this preview told me what I wanted to know. Great job, guys!!!
    Reply
  • Hi - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    IMO, bloom looks the best of all three screenshots Reply
  • overclockingoodness - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    I personally like full HDR; to me, it's smoother. Reply
  • ksherman - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    agreed Reply
  • bob661 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    I agree with the comments above. Looks too washed out. Not natural. Reply
  • Araemo - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Humorously enough, if you go to a bright beach on a bright day, the sand will look 'washed out'. Especially if you're viewing it through a TV camera(which limits the dynamic range of the image in a similar way that your monitor limits the dymanic range of the rendered scene.)

    Plus, this is generation 1 real-time HDR(sorta), don't be TOO hard on them. ;P Anti-aliasing was poo-poo'd early on because it 'made everything blurry'. I can't live without it in most games(As long as I'm playing at 1024x768 or above)
    Reply
  • pol II - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    ...screenshots anyway. Just looks too washed out to me. Good to see that the technology is moving forward though. Reply

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