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AMD says new graphics chip makes games seem real

June 16, 2008 |  5:48 pm
A virtual scorpion rendered with the help of ATI Radeon

UPDATE 6 P.M.: OK, so it took a while but here's the scorpion video. Now that it's been all built up like that...

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UPDATE 11:18 A.M.: Welcome, Digg masses! You've asked some good questions, and here are some answers.

First, the model number of the new family of graphics card, which AMD code-named the RV770. AMD says it will sell two models starting June 25: The ATI Radeon HD 4850 will cost $200 and the more powerful ATI Radeon HD 4870 will cost $300. AMD's Cinema 2.0 site has a few more details.

Second, you wanted to see the clip. We asked the company for it yesterday but haven't gotten it yet. We'll update the post with it as soon as we can.

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We've come a long way since Pong and Space Invaders. But video and computer games are still striving to be both interactive and realistic. Have you seen the "Saturday Night Live" skit of the interview with Grand Theft Auto IV's main characters, Niko and Vlad? Their arms move imprecisely, as if they're puppets underwater.

On Monday, chip maker Advanced Micro Devices, which already supplies the graphics power for the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360, showed the "SNL" skit at an event in San Francisco. Then AMD gave a taste of what it says a game maker can do with its new microprocessor: A 30-second clip of what appeared to be a real scorpion skittering around a terrarium, presumably hunted by another equally terrifying bug. The scorpion demo was made by the film director David Fincher (director of "Fight Club") on a computer. Was it a video game? An interactive movie? AMD wouldn't say. But it looked scarily real.

The comparison between that and the GTA IV isn't quite fair. The current generation of game consoles that GTA IV plays on is already a few years old, and AMD's new processor is for state-of-the-art PCs. The processor will be featured on a new graphics card from AMD called the ATI Radeon and will go on sale in a few weeks for $200. The graphics card, which will also be built into some new computers and possibly video game consoles someday, will be able to show special effects in games that many of today's graphics cards don't (most PC games let you turn off those features if your processor can't handle them).

AMD is hoping that it can appeal to developers who want to create games that are of movie quality. It also hopes that moviemakers will use the extra horsepower so they can render film faster and, if they want, make movies more interactive. AMD calls this strategy Cinema 2.0.

"The lines between the two mediums are blurring," said Rick Bergman, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's Graphics Product Group.

AMD is not alone in appealing to the video game developers. Nvidia today has a new offering too, as Dean Takahashi over at Venture Beat details.

Game developers have had to decide between making games more visually realistic or creating figures that move quickly and smoothly, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64. "Now the hardware is powerful enough that they can do effects that make images look better without limiting the performance," he said.

Now it's a fight between graphics cards -- AMD or Nvidia.

-- Michelle Quinn

Image from the AMD technology demo of David Fincher's work-in-progress "Bug Snuff," courtesy of AMD

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