One of the features lacking in the 2900 XT was the new UVD video decoder engine. UVD provides hardware acceleration of H.264 and VC-1 high definition video formats used by Blu-ray and HD DVD. The video processor allows the GPU to apply hardware acceleration and video processing functions while keeping power consumption & CPU utilization low. When the HD 2900 XT was released it took the press by surprise that the low-cost HD 2400 and 2600 where able to post-processes and accelerate HD streams like VC1 and H.264 fine while the 400 USD counterpart missed that engine and thus that translated into much higher CPU utilization.
That is no longer the case, we ran a HD-HQV test and noted sheer decoding perfection on both the HD 3850 and 3870 (X2). Low CPU utilization whilst scoring a maximum of 100 out of a 100 points. One other improvement has been made as well you can now upscale your 1920x1080 streams fine towards for example a 2560x1600 sized monitor (no more black borders).
HDMI & HDCP compatibility
Obviously the entire HD 3000 series of cards will offer HDMI connectivity with the help of a DVI adapter or native with a HDMI connector integrated into the card, all cards fully support the DRM cancer called HDCP. Unlike most current HDMI implementations on PCIe graphics cards, this HDMI solution also incorporates audio functionality into the GPU.
Your series 3000 card can directly output audio over HDMI removing the need of a separate sound card over your HDMI connector. Where it'll output that sound in 16-bit PCM Stereo sound or AC3 5.1 compressed multi-channel audiostreams as Dolby Digital and DTS. A feature, especially for those who use their PC as a HTPC and are connecting HDMI towards a HDMI receiver.
So with the Series 2000/3000 you'll receive a DVI-to HDMI adapter which, and make no mistake here, will carry sound over HDMI. That's unlike current DVI-HDMI adapters and cables which do not carry sound. Fantastic if you are watching a Blu-ray movie, simply connect HDMI towards your HDTV for PCM sound, or connect it through a TrueHD/Dolby HD receiver and get that sound lovin' going on through that receiver of yours. All with one simple cable.
Both the Radeon HD 3850 & 3870 support the DirectX 10.1 API, introducing a new layer of extensions. DirectX 10.1 is expected to launch with the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and is backwards compatible with the existing DirectX 10 layer. Make no mistake, DX10.1 fully supports DX10 hardware. And DX10.0 class cards will still play DX10.1 games just fine.
It's basically an update to DX10 that extends the hardware functionality slightly. All the hardware is still supported, all the games still run, all the features are still there, it's just simply extended the feature set and the lifetime of the API. The release mainly sets a few more image quality standards for graphics vendors, while giving developers more control over image quality. Features scheduled for DirectX 10.1 include:
Mandatory 32-bit floating point filtering
Mandatory 4x anti-aliasing
Shader model 4.1
DirectX 10.1 will get updated with the availability of Windows Vista SP1. Until this point in time, Microsoft managed to avoid the subject of the final release of SP1. However, speculations point to either the end of 2007 or to early 2008 as possible release dates.
Again, ATI recently introduced CrossFireX. Which allows you (with selected mainboards) to combine one, two, three or even four graphics cores together in Crossfire mode. That's a lot of future redundancy. Expect quad GPU driver support in March 2008.
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