Despite the fact that graphics cards are all about programmability and thus shaders these days, you'll notice in today's product that we'll not be talking about pixel and vertex shaders much anymore. With the move to DirectX 10 we now have a new technology called Unified shader technology, and graphics hardware will adapt to that model. It's actually very promising.
DirectX 10 has been shipping since the first public release version of Windows Vista, which is also its biggest downside; you need to have Windows Vista. It will definitely change the way software developers make games for Windows and very likely benefit us gamers in terms of better gaming visuals and better overall performance.
For a deeper insight on DirectX 10, Shaders and Tessellation please read this article.
HD technology & Avivo HD
AMD has tagged HD to the product name to designate the entire lineups Avivo HD technology, and for a good reason. I've been preaching for a while now that we see the living room entertainment coming to the PC more and more, in a very fast fashion. One of the most popular things we've noticed here in Europe has to be HDTV and everything related to it. The trend really started last year already and with the help of Blu-ray and HD-DVD it's coming in faster and quite frankly, thank God for that, as watching content in HD is simply breathtaking.
What exactly do acronyms like HDMI and HDCP mean? The HDTV market continues to heat up, and who has not heard about terms like HD Ready? Let's run through some terms. HDTV stands for High Definition Television, the current image standard is know as Standard Definition. The high definition format uses up to 1080 lines to make up the picture you see on your TV compared to 576 for the current standard, HD will also be broadcasted in widescreen 16:9 format rather than the conventional 4:3 format. This will make for a truly cinematic experience.
Very blunt: HD = More lines = more pixels = better picture quality
In simple terms the image you will see with HD will have vastly improved image detail and color reproduction.
HDMI means High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It is a new kind of digital audio and video connector that will replace all connectors currently used by DVD players, TV sets and video monitors. The big idea here is that we should all use a single cable instead of several cables when connecting your DVD player to your TV set, for example. Interesting fact: HDMI is similar to DVI with three exceptions; HDMI is a much smaller connector (it pretty much looks like an USB connector), HDMI utilizes copy protection called HDCP (high definition copy protection) and finally; HDMI carries multi channel digital audio. HDMI, like DVI, is ALL-digital therefore picture quality is perfect from source to display.
HDMI also implements a copy-protection mechanism called HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection). First off... from now on, all series 2000 cards are HDCP compatible as the much needed crypto chip is embedded into the core logic of the card. Why the need for it? Well... with Vista when you want to playback HDCP content (movies) on your monitor, the resolution could be dumbed down or even worse if your monitor, content and graphics card do not have a HDCP (content protection) handshake.
It's like this: Your screen will go black during playback if you do not have an HDCP encoder chip working on the graphics card. So close to the cooler you'll notice a small EEPROM slash CryptoROM doing that magic for you. HiS included it on this boards Mind you that if you like to playback media files with a HDCP ready graphics card, you'll also need a HDCP compatible monitor. (Hey, don't look so angry. Don't shoot the messenger!).
So, a HD Ready television will have either a DVI (Digital Video Interface) or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). Both connections provide exceptional quality. HDMI is often referred to as the digital SCART cable as it also provides audio. DVI supplies picture only, separate cables are needed for audio. Both HDMI and DVI support HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) which will be a requirement for protected content.
Why does Avivo HD apply to you ?
Well just look at the latest trend of HTPC's, Home Theater PC's. Things like Media Center PC's. It's exactly these kind of things I am talking about. This is the future of media playback and the PC is going to play such an important role in that.
The key advantages of Avivo HD technology are twofold.
First and foremost to offload the CPU by allowing the GPU to take over a huge sum of the workload while being more energy efficient aware. HDTV decoding can be very demanding for a CPU. These media files can peak to 20 Mbit/sec easily as HD streams offer high-resolution playback in 1280x720p or even 1920x1080p without framedrops and image quality loss. By offloading that big task for the bigger part of the graphics core, you give the CPU way more headroom to do other things, which actually makes your PC run normal.
Make no mistake though, as our tests have proven, any modern CPU is quite capable of doing the same job just fine. But a combination of factors offer you stutter-free high quality and high resolution media playback. All standard HDTV resolutions are of course supported, among them the obvious 480p, 720p and 1080i modes and now also 1080p (P=Progressive and I=Interlaced). The new HD 2000 series will also offer you HD noise reduction, which is a great feature with older converted films. And this is where we land at the second advantage of Avivo, Image Quality.
Avivo HD can offer a large amount of options that'll increase the IQ of playback. This can be managed with a wide variety of options. Obviously AMD has some interesting filters available in the Avivo HD suite like advanced de-interlacing, which can greatly improve image quality while playing back that HD-DVD, MPEG2, TS AV-1 or H.264 file (just some examples). Aside from that, things like colour corrections should not be forgotten. All major media streams are supported by AMD with Avivo HD. And yes, High Definition H.264 acceleration, which will eventually become a big, new and preferred standard, is also supported. AMDs upgraded Avivo with a new Universal Video Decoder, also known as UVD, and the new Advanced Video Processor, or AVP. UVD actually made its debut in the OEM-exclusive RV550 GPU core. UVD provides hardware acceleration of H.264 and VC-1 high definition video formats used by Blu-ray and HD DVD. The AVP allows the GPU to apply hardware acceleration and video processing functions while keeping power consumption low.
UVD expands on the previous generations AVIVO implementation to include hardware bit stream processing and entropy decode functions. Hardware acceleration of frequency transform, pixel prediction and deblocking functions remain supported, as with the first generation AVIVO processing. AMDs Advanced Video Processor, or AVP, has also made the cut for low power video processing.
UVD is a feature only present in HD 2400 and 2600 series, not 2900.
HIS HD 2600XT IceQ TURBO 512MB DDR3 This tested product is a HiS product, and in their line-up they always offer a IceQ version usually combined with a "Turbo" tag. This product is no different. Not only does this Radeon HD 2600 XT graphis card come with 512MB memory, it also comes pre-overclocked and has that IceQ cooler slapped on top of it.