The Radeon HD series 4000 products have support for DirectX 10.1, introducing a new layer of extensions. DirectX 10.1 was launched with the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and is backwards compatible with the existing DirectX 10. 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
UVD 2 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.
You will have sheer decoding perfection on both the HD 4850 and 4870. Low CPU utilization whilst scoring maximum image quality. One 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).
New in the GPU architecture of the series 4000 is an update video engine. It's not much different opposed to the old UVD engine, yet has two new additions for post-processing, decoding and enhancing video streams. Dual stream decoding is one of the new features. For example if you playback a Blu-ray movie and simultaneously want to see a director's commentary (guided by video) you can now look at both the movie and (see it like picture in -picture) in a smaller screen see the additional content. Obviously this is blu-ray 2.0 compatibility here, and the additional content is an actual feature of the movie. But definitely fun to see.
A new feature also is dynamic contrast enhancement which was introduced by team green last year.
It does pretty much what the name says; dynamic contrast enhancement technology will improve the contrast ratios in videos in real-time on the fly. It's a bit of a trivial thing to do, as there are certain situations where you do not want your contrast increased. Think for example a scary thriller, dark environment ... and all of a sudden your trees light up. So with that in mind; the implementation has been done very delicately. It does work pretty well, but personally I'd rather tweak the contrast ratio myself and leave it at that. Another feature is Dynamic Color Enhancement. It's pretty much a color tone enhancement feature and will slightly enforce a color correction where it's needed. We'll show you that in a bit as I quite like this feature; it makes certain aspects of a movie a little more vivid.
Some like other hate these features. I say it's good to have choices and anything that can enhance image quality is nice to have in my book. Directly tied to the UVD engine is obviously also sound. AMD's Radeon series 3000 and now 4000 cards have a feature that the competition does not have. It can pass lossless sound directly though the HDMI connector. This has been upgraded as it's now possible to have 7.1 channel lossless sound, meaning DTS-ES and all other formats now have become a reality. A very nice move indeed as that distance between the living room and your PC is getting smaller each year. Yours truly for example has a nice Onkyo receiver which I connect HDMI to. This receiver will take that 7.1 channel sounds with a lot of interest, process it, and then passes through the HDMI content itself to the HD television. All that over just one HDMI cable. Excellent stuff.
So with the Series 2000/3000/4000 you'll receive a DVI-to HDMI adapter which, and make no mistake here, will carry that 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.
Here we can see that DVI to HDMI dongle that is supported with the HD 300 series Radeon graphics cards. I have to note that some board partners are now slowly making to move to integrate a HDMI connector on the graphics card. TUL (PowerColor) for example submitted a card today that has HDMI integrated.
Mind you that to be able to playback High-def content you'll still need WinDVD or PowerDVD, a HD source (Blu-ray + player) and a HDCP monitor or television.
What about Physics then ?
PhysX - Much like NVIDIA CUDA based PhysX implementation, ATI (AMD) did recently announced cooperation with Intel's HAVOC engine. Though currently far less substantial, PhysX calculations over the GPU are in the work. As it works right now (example debris/cloth) physics calculations are computed over the CPU with games that support the HAVOK API. AMD is working on moving these functions to the GPU. Thus have the stream processors (shade engine) compute these functions. It's work in progress and during a recent press-briefing we asked when we can expect driver support for GPU HAVOK physics.
The answer was unfortunately a bit cold. It could be a matter of months, yet also easily be the end of the year or even later. Fact remains though that the Series 4000 do support the feature and AMD considers this "work in progress" and my general feeling is that they are certainly not hasting to get it supported.
Fact is that with DirectX 11 a new set of shaders is introduced called compute shaders, allowing Physics computing to be managed over the DX codepath, my bet is that ATI is fully focusing on that. So don't get your hopes up.
What's Crossfire? some of you might ask. Well, just like NVIDIA's SLI, Crossfire is a situation where you add a second, third or even fourth similar generation graphics card (or in today's case GPU) to the one you already have in your PC and effectively try to double, triple, quadruple your raw rendering / gaming performance.
The idea is not new at all though .. if you are familiar with the hardware developments over the past years you'll remember that 3dfx had a very familiar concept with the Voodoo 2 graphics cards series. There are multiple ways to manage two cards rendering one frame, think of Supertiling, it's a popular form of rendering. Alternate frame Rendering, each card will render a frame (even/uneven) or Split Frame rendering, simply one GPU renders the upper or the lower part of the frame. So you see there are many methods where two or more GPUs can be utilized to bring you a gain in performance.
The product we test today is based on the 4870, yet it has two GPUs merged together with a bridge chip utilizing crossfire technology to render your games faster. However, one could even decide to combine two X2 cards and get 4 GPUs active and rendering your games.
Though with power requirements and incompatibility issues in mind, we can't recommend it.
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