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High-Tech And Vertex Juggling - NVIDIA's New GeForce3 GPU
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I don't want you to fall asleep and I think I have introduced just about enough effects enabled by GeForce3's new Vertex Shader. Let me just mention the others that NVIDIA considers important so far:

  • Creation of realistic looking fur in combination with the new Pixel Shader.
  • Vertex Shader controlled particle systems are able to run completely independent from the CPU.
  • Underwater light refraction patterns from the water surface are realized by the Vertex Shader with mesh blending.
  • Two-sided lighting allows different lighting characteristics of the front and backside of a triangle.
  • Silhouette rendering, membrane lighting, rainbow rendering, anisotropic lighting, toon shading are all custom lighting effects that look rather fancy.
  • Perlin noise is probably the most popular procedural noise function, and is very useful for things like clouds, smoke, swirling fog, fire, etc. By being able to run Perlin Noise through the Vertex Shader, GeForce3 can essentially generate procedural effects like smoke, fire and clouds independently from the CPU.
  • Many point lights - the vertex shader allows a lot more lights per vertex than the 8 lights previously allowed by DirectX7. NVIDIA has an example with 17 diffuse lights. However, the 128-instruction limit is still restricting the number of possible specular lights.
Vertex Shader Summary

There is no doubt that the new opportunities enabled by GeForce3's new Vertex Shader are simply amazing. The implementation of this new 'vertex processor' is marking a quantum leap in terms of possible photo-realism in 3D-applications. Microsoft's upcoming Xbox will also be equipped with this feature and even with a beefier version than GeForce3. The currently known Xbox specifications lead to the conclusion that NVIDIA's Xbox chip will come with two parallel vertex shaders.

Unfortunately there are a few problems as well. First of all will we have to realize that it will take a pretty long time until games will finally take proper advantage of the Vertex Shaders. It does not only take some time until developers will have adopted the huge new feature set of the Vertex Shader, but it will also last quite a while until enough systems will be equipped with graphics cards that support vertex programs. As long as only a (rich) minority of people can and will afford GeForce3 cards, game developers would significantly restrict their audience if they would base their games on vertex shader operations. We should remember how long we had to wait for games that made proper use of integrated T&L. GeForce256 was released late 1999 and even today there are only few games that require integrated T&L for a proper operation.

The second question is about the performance of those nifty vertex programs. Right now we don't know if those great effects will be executed fast enough to make them worthwhile. Lovely looking Blinn bump mapped surfaces won't be much appreciated if they should impact game performance.

The Vertex Shader is a great feature and should be well commended. However, it won't be reason enough to go and buy a GeForce3 card right now.

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