Image Quality Revisited
This past August we brought you an image quality comparison between ATI’s RADEON 9800 Pro and NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. We did so with the knowledge that image quality is rather subjective, and one person’s anti-aliasing of choice is the butt of another’s jokes.
That first piece was well received for the most part, but we read every piece of feedback nonetheless, in email form and on the message boards of other sites. Although the original plan consisted of publishing a follow-up piece within a week or two of the first article, a sudden influx of new products kept the entire staff busy, and consequently, round two of the image quality debate was delayed.
A few things have changed since then. Mainly, ATI released its RADEON 9800 XT and NVIDIA unveiled the GeForce FX 5950, both cards fundamentally faster versions of their predecessors. Further, ATI put the wraps on what its own driver team calls the “most innovative and significant CATALYST release ever,” CATALYST 3.8. NVIDIA followed suit by receiving Microsoft WHQL certification on the long-anticipated Detonator 52.16 driver. Clearly, more than a few variables have changed since the last time we looked past quantifiable performance and into the world of image quality.
Changing for the Better
I doubt that any of my colleagues will argue frame rates tell the whole story when it comes to making a product recommendation. Benchmarking is a perilous business, especially with ATI and NVIDIA slinging accusations back and forth. And so it becomes necessary to delve a bit deeper, to analyze the quality of an image when you, the user, select any combination of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.
In the last piece, we used a limited number of titles and matched modes. For instance, ATI’s 4x anti-aliasing was compared to NVIDIA’s 4x; likewise for the anisotropic filtering settings and combinations of the two. Of those comments that we received, a majority asked for maximized settings in the follow-up. That is, you wanted to see ATI’s most intensive options compared against NVIDIA’s.
So, this time around we’ve used the highest settings available on both competing cards purely for the sake of image quality. We’ve also added some shots from the first game scene in 3D Mark03 to highlight anti-aliasing (another popular request). The NASCAR 2003 Racing Season screenshot is a bit different to satiate those who weren’t satisfied with the first comparison, we’ve zoomed out of the IL2: Forgotten Battles scene for a better anti-aliasing shot, and Brandon recorded a custom demo to showcase Unreal Tournament.
Have the latest round of hardware and software releases improved the state of image quality? Read on to find out…