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Nvidia Surround, Display Output, And Video

GeForce GTX 480 And 470: From Fermi And GF100 To Actual Cards!
By , Fedy Abi-Chahla and Florian Charpentier

For those who’ve come to know and love AMD’s Eyefinity technology, Nvidia Surround is a bittersweet effort.

On one hand, the launch of GeForce GTX 480 means that Nvidia, like AMD, is pushing enough graphics horsepower from a single-GPU card that gaming at 2560x1600 isn’t necessarily taxing. Thus, the company is enabling (via software) the ability to span games across three displays, akin to Eyefinity.

The good news here is that Nvidia Surround supports bezel correction so that display bezels function more like window frames and less like jarring interruptions between continuous objects on-screen. It also works on older GeForce GTX 200-series graphics cards—so anyone rocking an SLI-based configuration of, say, GTX 280s could conceivably take advantage.

The bad news is that GF100- and GT200-based graphics cards are limited to two independent display outputs each. Attaching three monitors requires two cards. Comparatively, AMD’s support for three (and soon to be six) LCDs from a single board is vastly superior. Granted, the number of people with three-monitor desktops is small, but I’m included in that minority, so it’s all the more relevant to me.

To Nvidia’s credit, it plans to go one step further by enabling stereoscopic mode across three displays—and it’ll be the only game in town for anyone willing to throw down for three new 120 Hz LCDs, two graphics cards, and a $200 GeForce 3D Vision kit. Expensive? Yes. Potentially very cool? Also yes. 3D Vision Surround support is not yet part of the GeForce 197 driver. Rather, it’s expected to emerge in the 256.xx release sometime next month, and we’ll need to follow up once the feature can be tested.

Display Output

As you likely surmised from the preceding discussion, GF100 proffers two display pipelines, which are integrated into the GPU (unlike last-generation’s cards, which employed the NVIO companion chip). Both the GeForce GTX 480 and GeForce GTX 470 include two dual-link DVI outputs and a mini-HDMI connector, two of which can be used at any given time.

Three outputs available; use any two at a timeThree outputs available; use any two at a time

This connectivity suite isn’t particularly unexpected given then prevalence of DVI and the two-output ceiling common to every card outside of the Radeon HD 5000-series. AMD’s emphasis on DisplayPort is driven predominantly by the way Eyefinity enables its three-plus outputs.

Video And GF100 In Your HTPC

With everyone focusing on compute and gaming performance, there’s been little attention paid to GF100’s A/V capabilities. Naturally, nobody is going to want a GeForce GTX 480 or 470 in a home theater PC. But what about the derivative cards sure to follow?

GF100 employs the VP4 engine introduced back in October of last year with the mainstream GeForce GT 220 cards. VP4 adds support for MPEG-4 ASP (Advanced Simple Profile) acceleration, in addition to the MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 codecs offloaded by VP3.  

Moreover, it’s no longer necessary to use an S/PDIF cable to enable HDMI audio input. GF100 (like the GT 220 and GT 240) supports HDMI audio over PCI Express, enabling multi-channel LPCM. TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio cannot be bitstreamed, as they can with AMD’s Radeon HD 5000-series and Intel’s Clarkdale-based Core i3/Core i5 CPUs. You can’t get lossless audio out of a GF100-based card, but again, that probably won’t matter in any way until the Fermi architecture is miniaturized in a big way.

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