Train Wreck Takes Internet Off Track

Omid’s been pretty excited about the possibilities being drummed up by ATI’s SmartShader and the potential of R200. Here we have some new screenshots of the ATI demo of the technology.

In this shot, the chalice is per-pixel anisotropically lit, to simulate a brushed metallic surface. It is also diffuse bump mapped. The wood on the treasure chest in the background is diffuse bump mapped and the metal is bump cubic environment mapped. The floor is diffuse bump mapped

What we should probably stress is that vertex shaders and pixel shaders are difficult to program. Everyone’s talking about them, and these screenshots look amazing, considering they only required one pass for every polygon with full effects, but at the end of the day, the learning curve for developers is going to be pretty steep. We might not see the full benefits of the hardware for some time.

In this case, the chalice is bump cubic environment mapped as well as tinted to appear gold. The cubic environment map is regenerated each frame by rendering the scene into the six faces of the cubic environment map from the point of view of the center of the chalice.

Now, just because all the features of the next generation graphics products, like the GeForce3 and the upcoming R200, may not get used, it doesn’t mean that these products don’t make a good purchase. 3D is never going to be good enough, and that’s something that is going to be with us for a long, long time to come. Your buying into the promise of future applications and games taking full advantage of the capabilities of next generation graphics chips, and isn’t that what you do with any computer product that you buy today?

This image shows a stained glass window which is both reflecting and refracting the environment per pixel. This done in a single pass and is unique to SMARTSHADER technology, as previous (1.1) pixel shader models are not capable of doing this much math or sampling this many maps.

Granted, GeForce3 boards are not cheap, and I doubt that R200 boards are going to be an impulse buy, but that doesn’t mean that they lack value. It may be prudent to save your money until the applications and titles are there, but not every enthusiast or early adopter is going to want to do that. ATI doesn’t claim that they can do things that GeForce3 can do, but that they can do what you can see in these images in one pass. ATI claims that to do something like the last image you see here, their competition would have to do multiple passes. So, all effects are possible with programmable vertex and pixel shaders, but ATI is saying it has a richer rendering pipeline. Anyhow, if these images prove nothing else, the graphics business just got interesting again, and we’re not living in a one horse town. A little competition is good for the soul, ours, if not the manufacturers.

This effect shows bumped cubic environment mapping on a sphere. In addition to the bumped cubic environment mapping, this shader does per-pixel diffuse mapping, base texture mapping, colored gloss mapping and per-pixel fresnel. What each of these buys you is: per-pixel diffuse means you’re able to see the bumps and ridges in the rusty spots on the ball; base texture mapping provides the color of the rust; colored gloss mapping tints the reflections from the environment (pinkish in this case); per-pixel fresnel boosts the strength of the environment reflections around the edges of the object. Many materials such as ceramics, glass, skin and water have this optical property.