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It turns out that Burnout Paradise is easy to run, especially considering how darn good it looks. Because of this, we have set all of the visual-quality settings to their highest levels for all our tests, except for the Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) feature. We only enabled SSAO in its own dedicated benchmark comparison.
Image Quality: Radeon vs. GeForce
First off, we took a few screen shots from the Radeon HD 4850 card and compared them to results we got from a GeForce GTX 260. At first glance, the image quality appears absolutely identical, without anti-aliasing (AA), with 8x multi-sampling anti-aliasing (MSAA) enabled, and then with SSAO enabled:
Upon closer inspection, we start to see some noticeable differences during game play. The one that stands out the most is the shadow quality of the car's rear spoiler. On the Radeon cards, this shadow appears clean, but on the GeForce cards, the shadow has banding artifacts, as if it's a lower resolution than the Radeon's shadow.
Other differences appear with a little more scrutiny. The GeForce cards, for example, seem to display deeper-and-darker shadows such as the one under the player's car. The Radeon shadows appear lighter and paler in comparison.
We can also see some differences in the way the buildings are affected by light. There appears to be some brightness/contrast fluctuations on certain objects, but there's nothing else of real note. The 8x AA quality seems right on par for both cards.
The good news is, on the whole, it really doesn’t matter from which vendor your graphics card came if you’re worried about image or AA quality. The only issue we ever actually noticed while playing was the banding shadows on the player's car, and this isn't going to make or break your gaming experience.
SSAO Visual Setting: What is it and what can it do?
SSAO is the new buzz word in modern 3D engine lighting realism, pioneered in the once-bleeding-edge title Crysis. Simply put, ambient occlusion is an illumination algorithm that simulates many aspects of ray tracing. It can illuminate the entire scene globally, while highlighting the way that light has a difficult time penetrating confined or closed spaces, such as cracks. The bottom line is that lighting looks much more realistic with the ambient occlusion setting turned on.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. The method that Burnout Paradise uses to render ambient occlusion causes a strange dark halo effect around thin items in the scene. It’s especially distracting on items like railings and telephone pole wire. When enabled, it also causes a massive frame-rate hit as we will see later in the benchmarks.
Here's an example of SSAO. The SSAO feature seemed to work similarly between the GeForce and Radeon cards, aside from the brightness differences they already exhibited: