The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance - HotHardware

The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance

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As previously mentioned, we intend to explore the state of DirectX 10 in this article. That's a very tall order and one we cannot hope to fulfill unless we set out some boundaries and determine a specific scope for our examination. It would be nearly impossible and rather frivolous to encompass an evaluation of DirectX 10 from the perspective of everyone effected by its introduction -- such as the game developers, hardware manufacturers and end consumers -- into a single article.

To help keep the article at a manageable scope, we are only going to explore the current state of DX10 from the perspective of the end consumer. Anything that is or should be transparent to the consumer, such as API optimizations that let developers program more efficiently, will not be covered. Note that this is not necessarily the same as exploring the current end user experience. We want to focus on examining the potential of currently available DirectX 10 hardware and software. We will focus our attention on two fronts; performance and image quality. Specifically, we are interested in examining the differences in performance between DirectX 9.0c and DirectX 10 and the image quality enhancements of DirectX 10, if any.

Furthermore, we will only explore the performance and image quality of currently available games on currently available hardware. We chose five video cards and five games that we believe will best represent the currently available selection of DirectX 10 hardware and software for use in our testing. However, we decided not to include any entry level DX10 hardware, because today's offerings are not well suited to cutting-edge gaming.

ATI vs NVIDIA: While the purpose of this article was to look at DirectX performance, some people will no doubt try to draw conclusions about which brand is better from our data so we might as well address the issue. First and foremost, we  want to point out again that we made no effort to create a fair comparison between ATI and NVIDIA in our tests. The test setup for each game was chosen to try and illustrate how current generation graphics hardware will handle upcoming DX10 titles and the five video cards in our test were chosen primarily because we thought they represented the most relevant price points at the time the article was conceived.

HotHardware's Test System
System Specifications, Video Cards Used & Games Tested

Core 2 Duo E6850
(3.00GHz Dual-Core)


Asus P5K3 Deluxe
(Intel P35 Express Chipset)

Kingston KHX11000D3LLK2/2G
(DDR3 1375MHz CL7)

On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio

WD "Raptor" 74GB Hard Drive
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
Forceware v163.44 BETA
Catalyst 7.9
DirectX 9.0c
DirectX 10




Video Cards:

GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB
GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB
Radeon 2900 XT 512MB
Radeon 2600 XT 256MB



Games:
Bioshock
Call of Juarez
Company of Heroes
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
World in Conflict Demo



Performance Tests: For all of our performance tests, we used a single system configuration so that the benchmark results for each video card can be directly compared in each game. Since we are much more interested in performance differences rather than absolute performance, we were not as concerned with using a configuration representative of the average gamer. This allowed us to use a high-end configuration which meant we could enable all of the DX10 exclusive options available to each game. We chose to enable DX10 exclusive rendering options for all DX10 benchmarks rather than using an 'apples-to-apples' approach -- where DX10 rendering is enabled but DX10 exclusive options are not -- because we believe that not enabling the DX10 exclusive options would be sort of missing the point.

However, apples-to-apples tests are not without merit. As previously noted, one of the promises of DX10 is improved performance and efficiency compared to DX9 in certain situations. These efficiencies could result in better overall performance in an apples-to-apples situation where DX10 rendering proves to be faster than DX9 rendering. While we did not perform a full set of apples-to-apples benchmarks for every game, we kept an eye out for games that showed performance benefits under DX10 during our testing and performed additional apples-to-apples comparisons when necessary.

While our focus is on the current state of DirectX 10, we wanted to keep an eye on the future and how well the current batch of DX10 capable hardware will be able to handle upcoming titles. After all, many of the most hotly anticipated DX10 capable titles have yet to be released. In order to attempt to simulate the level of strain that future titles may put on hardware, we performed our tests with each game set to a high level of image quality with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled wherever possible.
Specific video settings and other test information for each game can be found on their respective pages.

A Cautionary Note Regarding Performance Test Results: Generally, we used the highest settings possible for each game, even if cranking a specific setting doesn't necessarily result in an appreciable image quality improvement. Usage of high video settings meant that our test system was put under a considerable amount of strain and performance numbers are expected to be on the low side. We designed our tests to illustrate the competency of currently available DX10 hardware and games and the test results may not necessarily represent a typical end user experience.

Image Quality Tests: For each of the five games in our test, we compared the image quality of DX9 rendering and DX10 rendering and attempted to find as many differences as possible. All image quality tests were performed with
a GeForce 8800 GTX video card and the same test system configuration used in the performance tests. The video settings in each game were cranked up to their maximum levels and anti-aliasing as well as anisotropic filtering were enabled wherever possible.

Screenshots of each game using both DX9 and DX10 rendering were taken with Fraps at a resolution of 1920x1200. The screenshots were saved by Fraps in bmp format and later reformatted as jpegs with Adobe Photoshop CS3. The screenshots have been resized (maintaining aspect ratio) and/or cropped but not altered in any other way. While using jpeg does introduce a certain amount of compression artifacts to the images, we felt that they did not interfere with illustrating any of the image quality differences we are trying to point out in our direct-comparison images,
where a single image displays a part of a scene in both DX9 and DX10 side-by-side in order to focus on a specific difference in image quality. After all, if the difference is so subtle that simple jpeg compression artifacts could prevent the difference from being noticed in a direct side-by-side comparison, how are you supposed to notice it in-game?


 Discuss This Article

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Sorry we lost the previous comments on this post. We just added new functionality to the site and forum that allows you to comment in either place and it shows up on the main site.

The gist of the comment was that a loyal HH reader liked Mike's article here. We concur whole-heartedly. :)

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you guys are so weird. First you say that in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp and crips. Which is weird as everybody knows that soft shadows are desirable because are more similar with reality. And games makers struggle to offer soft shadows. - And then you said "Call of Juarez's DX10 mode offers softer, more natural looking shadows." - It appears that you contradict yourself. - And then again in World In Conflict you say : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9. In the image below, the shadow in DX9 has blurry edges while the same shadow in DX10 has sharp and crisp edges" - ? ? ? sebastian___

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sebastian___:
you guys

 

Reviews/commentaries are written by individuals, so naturally oppinions/perceptions will vary!

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I'm talking about a single review : "The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance" - written by (I think) a single reviewer/writer. And it's clearly a contradiction, because one minute he said ..." in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp" , then the next minute he says : "Call of Juarez's DX10 mode offers softer, more natural looking shadows" ..and than again the writer change his mind by saying about World In Conflict : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9".

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 My only fear with Dx10 is that it appears to have become one of only two reasons, the other being a shiny aero interface, that people have any interest in investing in Vista.

 

The difference between the comparative frames in World in Conflict are so negligible that Dx10, for most, would seem to be worth the financial outlay unless you are a complete techno purist. The hit in Company of Heroes is even more dumbfounding

 

I would have felt gutted if I had spent two hundred quid (400 dollars) on an 8800 GTS on the sole premise that I would have been able to play Dx10 games at reasonable frame rates  with a small modicum of future proofing.

 

Maybe Im just getting old and grumpy (actually I am, my wife keeps telling me) but Im sure Dx9 (especially c) was greeted with much more enthusiasm from gamers, developers as well as hardware manufacturers and had an even more positive effect on the whole PC industry.

 

(By the way, I thought the actual article was well written). 

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sebastian___:
you guys are so weird. First you say that in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp and crips.
 

Point out where it was said that the shadows were 'better'? The article simply points out the difference in the way shadows are rendered between DX9 and DX10, noting that they are sharper in DX10. No where does it say the difference makes things better/worse, therefore no contradiction. 

 

sebastian___:
and than again the writer change his mind by saying about World In Conflict : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9".

Note again that the article does not say that the difference in the way shadows are rendered improves image quality, simply noting that they are crisper and more accurate. In this case, "accurate" means how close the shadow resembles the silhouette of the object, not how accurate it is to real life.

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Well, maybe you're right. But he was writing about the BioShock DX 10 features like they were some improvements :

Quote 1 :

"The new DX10 enhancements include the use of dynamic water ripples, soft edges for particles, and crisper shadow edges"

Quote 2 :

"The last and least noticeable image quality difference between DX9 and DX10 in Bioshock is the appearance of shadows. In the screenshot you can see that the shadow in DX10 has a slightly sharper edge when compared to the same shadow rendered in DX9".

- Indeed it doesn't say it's better, but as you are reading this, you are inclined to think that the writer think this is an improvement albeit a very small one. 


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sebastian___:

Well, maybe you're right. But he was writing about the BioShock DX 10 features like they were some improvements :

Quote 1 :

"The new DX10 enhancements include the use of dynamic water ripples, soft edges for particles, and crisper shadow edges"

Quote 2 :

"The last and least noticeable image quality difference between DX9 and DX10 in Bioshock is the appearance of shadows. In the screenshot you can see that the shadow in DX10 has a slightly sharper edge when compared to the same shadow rendered in DX9".

- Indeed it doesn't say it's better, but as you are reading this, you are inclined to think that the writer think this is an improvement albeit a very small one. 

 

The articles mentions that crisper shadows was mentioned in the Bioshock game manual. I have my copy right here and it does indeed list crisp shadows as a game feature in a section titled "DirectX 10 Enhancements".

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