Image Quality Analysis
We benchmarked the game at two levels of quality to accommodate the low- and high-end cards in our testing suite. We used maximum detail to show how the game performs under the most difficult circumstances and low detail to show how it performs with older/slower graphics hardware.
Critiquing a game with two distinct arenas of play--space and ground--makes things a little more interesting than usual, so let's have a closer look at each one.
Detail Levels: Space
Let's start with space. At maximum detail, the space arena can be a thing of real beauty. The backgrounds and environments have the potential to be breathtaking. Ships and space objects cast shadows not only on themselves, but also on other ships. This makes for some dramatic effects. For example, when traveling in an asteroid field or by a space station, a large shadow will often swallow your ship whole. There aren't a lot of space games that use shadows to good effect, but happily it's done right in STO.
At low detail, space loses a lot of lighting, texture, and shadow detail. Environmental objects like asteroids and space stations become noticeably flatter looking. But on the whole, the space environment remains appealing because you're looking at your own ship from a distance and don't often get close enough to notice the difference. The pleasant nuances are missed, though.
Detail Levels: In-Ship and Planet-Side
At maximum detail, ground-based areas are sometimes less impressive than space. While items and characters do seem to be rendered with adequate detail, some textures appear to be blurry and at a lower resolution than what you would expect them to be. Starbase interiors seem to be one of the environments that have a bit more detail to offer, but many of the planet-side environments are quite bland. I will add that since the game has been officially released, these areas seem to be more polished and detailed than they were in the beta.
At the maximum setting, shadows and shader detail do help the ground environments look better. We also note that all of the indoor environments appear to be huge, even starship corridors, probably to accommodate the third-person floating camera.
I do admit that sometimes I felt the space and ground games are a little disjointed from an artistic point of view, but I will admit that space is an easier arena to render in impressive detail.
Ground areas also lose lighting, texture, and shadow detail at low quality settings. Your eye will definitely lament the loss of shadows here, as the game world appears much flatter and less engaging.
Image Quality: GeForce Versus Radeon
The difference between Radeon and GeForce graphics cards is minimal. Fan of either vendor will experience near-identical results and there are no noticeable differences to speak of.
In the STO forums, some players have reported crashing with the dynamic lighting setting enabled on Radeon cards. I didn't notice this phenomenon in space, but I did experience a few crashes during ground battles and I haven't had a crash since disabling dynamic lighting. It is difficult to say that this was the cause of the problem without a lot more testing, but the solution did seem to solve my problem, and the dynamic lighting option didn't have a noticeable effect on render quality.