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One thing Nvidia doesn’t have an answer for—at least not at the high end—is a next-gen video decoding. All of ATI’s new GPUs will be capable of offloading all HD DVD and Blu-ray video decoding from the host CPU. Boards based on these chips will also feature HDCP decryption over dual-link, DVI enabling them display the new video formats at their native resolutions. These are both feats that only Nvidia’s new—and otherwise low-end—GeForce 8500 and 8600 can match. The new and otherwise supremely powerful 8800 Ultra is stuck with the Nvidia’s first-generation PureVideo HD engine, which relies on the CPU for some decoding chores and offers HDCP decryption over only single-link DVI.
The Radeon HD 2000-series also features an integrated audio controller, adhering to Microsoft’s DRM edict that forbids splitting the audio output in order to provide HDMI out. AMD’s cards will come with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter that carries both digital video and digital audio signals on one connection.
Another unique feature common to the entire Radeon HD 2000-series is a programmable tessellation unit; again, based on technology developed for the Xbox 360. A tessellation unit takes the polygons in a crude model and subdivides them to create additional, smaller polygons in order to add detail without requiring a huge boost in GPU or CPU horsepower.
Film animators—a la Shrek and Finding Nemo—have been using tessellation technology for years, but the hardware has been lacking in PC graphics. ATI hopes to change that, but this tessellation unit is unlikely to have much of an impact until tessellation is exposed in DirectX. Chas. Boyd, a DirectX 10 graphics architect at Microsoft, has indicated that such an event lies in DirectX’s future, but it’s unclear whether that will come with an update to DirectX 10 or if the industry will have to wait for DX11.
AMD's new top-end GPU has 320 stream processors on tap.