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The Matrox Parhelia 512
Matrox Re-Enters The 3D Graphics Ring - Big, Bad and Pretty

By -Dave Altavilla
May 14, 2002


Displacement Mapping Engine
Something totally new and innovative for the developer

The Matrox Parhelia 512 is actually the first GPU of its kind to integrate hardware assistance for a technique that is fairly new to the 3D Graphics and Game Developer community, called Displacement Mapping.  This technology was developed by Matrox and will be part of the standard feature set for Microsoft's Direct X 9 API.  Think of Displacement Maps similarly to Texture Maps, only instead of holding object Texture data, they hold object Displacement or "volume" data, if you will.  That is to say that Displacement Maps give an object's surface its depth, height and profile.

Perhaps it is a bit of a cliché but a picture is certainly worth a thousand words, especially with this technology.  As a matter of fact, during our trip to the Matrox HQ in Montreal, Matrox was giving away these "Bed of Nails" gadgets as a door prize of sorts, one that also illustrates the technology very well.  Imagine, pushing your face into that prickly bed of nails and then looking at the structure, that is created on the other side, after your facial structure "displaced" hundreds of nails, at various heights in the bed.  You would get a strikingly accurate reconstruction of your facial features on that opposing surface.  You've just created a Displacement Map.

Here is an example of how Displacement Mapping can be utilized in 3D Gaming Engines.  This was part of the demo that Microsoft ran with Matrox at Winhec this Spring. 

Displacement Mapped Alien Rendering
Click image to stream 2.5MB AVI File


Displacement Mapped Terrain Demo - Courtesy Westwood Studios
Click image to stream 5.8MB AVI File


Dynamic Depth Adaptive Tessellation:

Now combine the scene's base mesh with the Displacement map, in real time and you get the effect that is rendered in these two demos.  As a scene requires additional detail, as the users field of vision zooms in for example in this Terrain demo, more geometric complexity and Vertex Texturing can be added, to provide the proper level of realism and detail.  Imagine what this technology can do for a Flight Sim.  Real-time terrain rendering has always been a major hurdle to overcome for the developer.

Again, the point to this whole technology demo, is that the Matrox Parhelia 512 has an on board processing engine for this technology.  Now the kicker here is that game developers have to take advantage of this on board hardware assist for this technology, in order for it to be a real benefit.  Both Displacement Mapping and Depth Adaptive Tessellation will become formally available to the developer, with the advent of the Direct 9X SDK.  However, we know for sure that Matrox is hard at work evangelizing this technology, as you can see in the Westwood Studios Terrain AVI.

Anti-Aliasing Technology
Efficient and beautiful

Several times during our visit to Matrox HQ, we were treated to a hand at the controls of the Parhelia 512, running a recent game title.  We were also allowed to experiment with different quality settings, including Anti-Aliasing.

16X Fragmentation AA:

Full scene Anti-Aliasing is very inefficient in that the process requires the GPU to Super or Multi-Sample an 3D scene, so that it can be re-rendered and filtered at higher resolutions to remove jagged edges.  This causes a significant reduction in frame rate and is significant processing overhead for the GPU 

FAA or "Fragmentation Anti-Aliasing", the Parhelia 512 way, only samples the edge pixels of a given scene, as illustrated above and determines whether they are not covered, completely covered or partially covered (fragmented).  If an pixel is determined to be fragmented, it is then Super Sampled at 16X AA sub pixel quality and either sent to the frame buffer or stored in the frame buffer with list data, for anti-aliasing.  The result is that less than 5 to 10% of the scene's pixels are actually anti-aliased.  Only the aliased pixels are actually processed for AA.  This is far more efficient and the results looks fantastic (we've seen it first hand) in 16X AA mode.  We also should note that textures won't get blurred as much with this method of AA since, only edge pixels are actually processed and not the complete scene.

Here are some screen shots for illustration.






16X AA


16X AA

Now there is one small caveat, when it comes to 16X Fragmentation AA with the Parhelia 512.  Some titles may not function correctly with this technology, as we've seen with certain titles with traditional Multi-Sampling or Super Sampling techniques.  However, the Parhelia 512 is also capable of up to 4X standard FSAA mode as well and has a selectable setting in the driver control panel. 


The New Matrox Power Desk:

Speaking of which, here is a quick demo of Matrox's new version of their "Power Desk" software.

Matrox Power Desk Demo
Click to view

Intuitive and user friendly, just the way we like it.


Glyph AA:

Once again, Matrox gives the end user a totally new technology.  Glyph AA is the technique used in Microsoft operating systems, that smooths the edges of screen fonts.  Microsoft calls their software AA approach "Clear Type".  Typically, this feature is supported in software and requires a small amount of CPU overhead.  However, like the GeForce 4, the Parhelia 512 accelerates Glyph AA in hardware and in addition allows for gamma correction of that text.  Gamma correction of screen fonts has not been available in hardware, until the Parhelia 512.

Example of Glyph AA - Click for view

Some folks may see this feature as more of a novelty than anything else.  However, users of Microsoft's "Clear Type" will appreciate this feature and it's a total "freebie".  We're certainly not complaining.


64 Super Sample Texture Filtering, Surround Gaming,
Dual Head HF and Triple Head!

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