Behind the Mask with Optimization and Catalyst AIby Derek Wilson on September 26, 2004 12:05 AM EST
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IntroductionCoinciding with the launch of the X700 line of graphics cards, ATI slipped a little something extra into its driver. The lastest beta version of Catalyst that we got our hands on includes a feature called Catalyst AI. Essentially, ATI took all their optimizations, added a few extra goodies, and rolled it all together into one package.
Optimization has been a touchy subject for quite some time in the world of consumer 3D graphics hardware. Over the past year, we have seen the industry take quite a few steps toward putting what the developers and users want above pure performance numbers (which is really where their loyalty should have been all along). The backlash from the community over optimizations that have been perceived to be questionable seems to have outweighed whatever benefit companies saw from implimenting such features in their drivers. After all, everything in this industry really is driven by the bottom line, and the bottom line rests on public opinion.
There are plenty of difficulties in getting a high quality, real-time 3D representation of a scene drawn something like every 25 thousandths of a second. The hardware that pushes thousands of vertecies and textures into millions of pixels every frame needs to be both fast and wide. Drivers and games alike need to focus on doing the absolute minimum that is necessary to produce the image desired in order to keep frame rates playable. The fight for better graphics in video games isn't due to a lack of knowledge about how to render a 3d scene; faster graphics come as we learn how to approximate a desired effect more quickly. Many tricks and features, and bells and whistles that we see in graphics hardware have worked their way down to "close enough" approximations from complex and accurate algorithms likely used in professional rendering packages.
Determining just what accuracy is acceptable is a very tough job. The best measure that we have right now for what is acceptable is this: the image produced by a video card/driver should look the way that the developer had intended it to look. Game developers know going in that they have to make trade-offs, and they should be the ones to make the choices.
So, what makes a proper optimization and what doesn't? What are ATI and NVIDIA actually doing with respect to optimization and user control? Is application detection here to stay? Let's find out.