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ATI Goes for DominATIon

In terms of connectivity Avivo has already raised the bar. Native support for dual-link DVI means that the cards can be used to connect very high resolution screens such as Apple’s 30in display with a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. Dell also has a screen with this resolution on the way. The X1800 line even features dual, dual-link DVI so you can hook up two of them if you find yourself to be excessively wealthy. There’s also support for Component out. One thing I wasn’t aware of however was that Avivo cards are HDMI and HDCP compliant. This is significant as once future formats such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray appear you’re going to need a HDMI compliant graphics card as well as a compliant screen. According to Godfrey Cheng we can expect to see Radeon boards with native HDMI connections at the rear at some point in the future.

But the big news is the H.264 hardware acceleration support. H.264 is a variant of MPEG4 that’s designed as a successor to MPEG2, offering equal quality but at far lower bit-rates, making it around two to three times more space efficient. The drawback is that its much more processor intensive, which means that high-definition, high bit-rate video can currently only be smoothly played back by today’s fastest CPUs. Average desktop PCs and the vast majority of laptops will struggle too. Just try watching a 1080p movie trailer from the Apple web site and you’ll see what I mean. However, ATI stated that only an X1800 card would be powerful enough to smoothly decode 1080p content. An X1600 would be fine for 720p, while a X1300 would only cope with standard def 480p and 576p.

Other benefits the 5.13 driver promises are enhancements in image quality, specifically improved vector adaptive deinterlacing, multi-format pull down detection and temporal recursive de-noise. While this all sounds suitably impressive all you need to know is that it will make video look better.

To prove this however, ATI is encouraging use of a new independent benchmark utility called HQV that is designed to actually give a definitive rating on as subjective an issue as image quality. HQV intelligently analyses deinterlacing quality, noise reduction capabilities, the quality of the sharpening and cadence detection. Not surprisingly ATI is happy to talk about this benchmark as with the new drivers the X1000 series demolishes an nVidia GeForce 7800 GTX by 130 points to 58. Ouch.

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