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GTX 780 Ti, G-Sync, GameStream and ShadowPlay

By NAG3LT19-10-2013

AMD had a lot exciting news to relate during their GPU product showcase last month, with their new card series, new audio technology and a new lower level Mantle graphics API. While most of Radeon's Rx 200 series are rebrands of HD 7000 series, R9 290X uses a new larger GCN GPU to compete with Nvidia's top cards. AMD has released a small teaser of its performance ahead of launch, showing it beating GTX 780 in BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider at 4K resolution. While it was obvious that Nvidia would respond to these steps from AMD, the full extent of their announcements was very large. During the 2 day Nvidia Montreal 2013 press event, the green team has showcased their new tools for game development and game effects [[NEWS: Nvidia's New Software Technologies]], a new frame syncing hardware and announced a new high end card – GTX 780 Ti.

G-Sync is definitely the most interesting of these announcements. It is a hardware and software solution allowing monitors themselves to operate at a variable refresh rate to eliminate screen tearing, without introducing any additional input lag or visual stuttering. While V-Sync forces GPUs to wait for monitor refresh before sending frame to display, G-Sync does the opposite – as soon as a new frame is rendered by the GPU it is sent to the display as a whole. The feature is targeted at 144 Hz monitors, and effectively allows them to display game at any dynamic refresh rate between 30 Hz and 144 Hz (if a game falls below 30 FPS, the frames will be duplicated to avoid flickering). While high refresh rate monitors already exhibit less tearing and lag than 60 Hz ones, G-Sync takes full advantage of their speed to eliminate those issues completely.

As a concept it sounds beautiful, but the hardware side may be as painful to your wallet as Steam sales are. G-Sync requires GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost or higher, display with G-Sync module and Windows 7 or newer. The monitor requirement is the most problematic, as monitors with G-Sync support from ASUS, BenQ, Philips, and ViewSonic will only appear in Q1 next year. The earliest G-Sync hardware to appear will be Nvidia's custom display board for the ASUS VG248QE monitor, which should appear before the end of this year and will have to be installed manually. Versions of this monitor with G-Sync built-in by ASUS themselves should appear in 2014 as well for $400 (current non-G-sync version is $280). G-Sync requires DisplayPort to work, so monitors without it will not receive even a DIY G-Sync upgrade, even if Nvidia decides to release those for other monitors. The G-Sync technology itself can support monitors with refresh rates over 144 Hz, but current DisplayPort 1.2 standard does not provide enough bandwidth to get higher refresh rates than 144 Hz at 1920x1080 resolution.

Nvidia's G-Sync feature has also received a lot of praise from the game developers Tim Sweeney, Johan Andersson and John Carmack invited to the event. Each of them considered G-Sync a very important feature due to the unpredictable nature of video games with fluctuating workload between frames. It is definitely a technology important for Camack's interest in virtual reality, where having minimal lag is paramount for immersion. This feature shows a lot of promise, but it may be troubling if it stays Nvidia exclusive and fragments the PC gaming market even more. There is some hope however, as Nvidia is thinking about licensing it and it is not strictly tied to Nvidia GPU hardware features.

Another new hardware announcement is the new GeForce GTX 780 Ti graphics card. Unfortunately, there were not many details about it. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has called it "cool, quiet, and fast", and said that it is the best GPU ever built. The last remark gives some hint, that the new card may even be more powerful than GTX Titan, likely due to a fully enabled GK110 GPU.  The card will be released in the middle of November and have the reference metal case similar to Titan. This card is likely a response to AMD's new top-end R9 290X. Pricing for both of them remains unknown, but it is expected to be in $650-$700 range.  It is also likely than Nvidia may drop prices on other GTX 700 series cards after its release, as GTX 770 and GTX 760 are currently quite expensive compared to the lower priced, but similarly performing AMD Rx 200 cards.

For those who decide to purchase Nvidia cards, there is a nice game offer – Holiday bundle between October 28th and November 26th. During that time, the buyers of GTX 660 and higher GTX 600 cards, as well as GTX 760 will receive Assassin's Creed IV and Splinter Cell Blacklist as well as a $50 discount on Nvidia Shield. The bonus for GTX 770/780 and Titan is beefier, as it also includes Batman Arkham Origins and $100 Shield discount. During the press event Nvidia has showcased the capabilities of their graphics cards by running 3 4K displays in portrait mode on Tri-SLI GTX Titan setup to play latest Assassin's Creed at the massive 6480x3840 resolution.

After a long period of uncertainty, the ShadowPlay recording feature also, finally has a release date – October 28. It will be a beta release at first and will be included in GeForce Experience 1.7 update. ShadowPlay uses the h.264 encoding chip in Kepler GPUs to record a compressed video up to 1920x1080 resolution, 60 FPS with 50 Mbps bitrate. It will only support desktop GTX 650 and higher graphics cards in DirectX games. There will be several video recording modes – manual recording is similar to other recording solutions, but it will give a compressed file without taxing CPU. The shadow mode is a more interesting one – the low performance impact (5-10%) due to the use of a separate hardware encoder allows running recordings in the background all the time. In shadow mode, ShadowPlay constantly records the last few minutes of gameplay into a buffer on a HDD, which can be saved into a permanent file on press of a button. It is similar to what Sony and MS have implemented in their future consoles. Twitch support will come to ShadowPlay in the future.

There are some really weird claims about ShadowPlay capabilities on different versions of Windows however. On Windows 8 shadow buffer is limited to 20 minutes, with no limit for on demand recording file sizes. On Windows 7, the buffer is limited to 10 minutes and manually recorded files are split into 4 GB chunks. In comments to the news, Nvidia employee Andrew Burnes claims that Windows 7 limits the file size to 4 GB. A very strange claim considering that Win 7 uses NTFS which has no such file size restriction and FRAPS can record files of any size. This seems fishy, but there is not enough to draw full conclusions at this time.

Finally there was some news related to Nvidia's streaming technologies, which makes use of the same h.264 encoder. Now all Nvidia's streaming technologies, between Cloud, PCs and Shield come under a single GameStream banner. While the name itself does not change the underlying technology, Nvidia has been improving that as well. They have been working with network equipment manufacturers to provide routers for local streaming at a high bandwidth, so as to ensure the best quality. After GameStream releases on October 28th, Nvidia Shield will finally receive the console mode, allowing connecting it to TV. While Shield uses 1280x720 resolution display, connecting it via a gigabit Ethernet cable allows streaming games to TV at 1920x1080 60 FPS with high image quality.

Overall, the new stuff and features introduced by Nvidia during this press conference are very interesting. G-sync has a lot of promise, especially if Nvidia will license it to other GPU manufacturers, allowing the amazing smoothness in all games. GTX 780 Ti is interesting as possibly the last top end 28 nm GPU, before 20 nm goes into mass production next year. The close line up between Nvidia and AMD should mean more price wars and lower prices for gamers. If ShadowPlay works as advertised there will be many more cool gaming videos on the internet from the people without special recording hardware. We have heard about new hardware and technology from both graphics giants, what is left – to see it in action.


Comments (2)
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Posts: 267

Seems to be quite real

Posts: 124

The G-Sync is a myth.