As well as looking like being the operating system that Vista should always have been in terms of ease of use and desktop performance, Windows 7 will also bring with it a new version of, Microsoft's gaming API, DirectX and today we got our first brief glimpse of just what we can expect from this upgrade.
During its Computex press conference AMD showed a brief demo of a figure being rendered in realtime on DirectX11 (DX11) hardware. It was very short but revealing (no, not like that).
Essentially, the big things to look out for when DX11arrives are tesselation (the main aspect that was being demonstrated by the above demo), compute shaders, multithreading, and HDR compression.
The former is something we've talked about at length before and indeed is something that AMD has supported on its graphics cards since the HD 3000 series (also on the Xbox 360). However, it's only with DX11 that there will be a universal platform that takes advantage of these card's capabilities. Tesselation, then, is the ability to smooth out the polygonal surfaces that make up 3D scenes by interpolating extra polygons between those of the base model. With hardware acceleration this can essentially be done for free where normally such high polygon counts would massively impact on performance. The long and short of it is 3D models will look considerably smoother and more realistic without performance dropping significantly.
Meanwhile, compute shaders are DX11's generalised way of performing none-3D processing on a GPU - opening up the power of a GPU to perform things like AI calculations or physics calculations. Multi-threading brings support for game performance to be improved by calculations being spread across multiple CPU cores (currently most games still only use a single core/thread). Lastly, HDR compression reduces the overhead of applying HDR effects in games.
All told these four features could and should add up to DX11 being a significant improvement over what came before, a point AMD's Senior Vice President for Products Group, Rick Bergman, took to its extreme by saying, "DX11 is the biggest inflection point in the graphics industry in 10 years". We'll just have to wait and see how true this all proves to be when hardware arrives at the end of the year.