Shader Profile Performance Differences in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Page 3

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Screenshots

All screen captures were taken at 1024×768 from the Lighthouse mission level. The first set of shots show the visual differences between all three shader profiles, with all selectable features available to each profile enabled. The profile 1.1 and 2.0 screenshots were taken with the Radeon X800 XT and the 3.0 shot using the GeForce 6800 GT.

Note: The images below direct link to png files that are ~ 1MB in size.

Profile 1.1 Profile 2.0 Profile 3.0
Profile 1.1 Profile 2.0 Profile 3.0

The lack of parallax mapping and soft shadows is very noticeable between the 1.1 and 2.0 profile shots. The lighting between the 2.0 and 3.0 profile shots, however, while subtle is still noticeably different. The following screenshots do a better job in showing this difference.

Because of the confusion surrounding the HDR feature now available with the new 2.0 profile, the following screenshots are intended to display the visual differences between the two graphics boards used for this article. All features are enabled in these shots.

Profile 2.0 HDR Profile 3.0 HDR
Profile 2.0 HDR Profile 3.0 HDR

The most noticeable difference is that the specular lighting is much more pronounced with the 3.0 profile’s HDR output and the entire scene isn’t quite as dark as with the 2.0 profile. Interestingly enough, the 2.0 profile shows no visual difference with or without tone mapping enabled.

Conclusions

With this new patch, Radeon board owners can finally enable some of the visual effects in Chaos Theory that were formerly relegated to only the 3.0 shader profile. While it’s questionable exactly what the 2.0 profile is doing with HDR enabled since no ATI hardware currently on the market supports FP blending, features such as parallax mapping and high quality soft shadows add nicely to the visual quality of the game. The new profile’s use of higher precision in its shaders also gives the nice benefit of removing the banding in the specular lighting that could be very distracting on certain mission levels. And while the best aspect of the 1.04 patch is inarguably the new 2.0 profile for ATI users, it’s unfortunate that the profile is limited to only Radeon boards. Though blame could perhaps be ultimately laid at Microsoft’s doorstep for repeatedly segmenting DirectX through the API’s various generations with these models that represent differing hardware capabilities (a situation that will hopefully be rectified once and for all with DirectX10), Ubisoft is basically defeating the purpose a commonly supported API brings to the market through the creation of technology inflection points game developers can seek to target. Chaos Theory’s suite of shader profiles could just as well be renamed as ATI and NVIDIA profiles, a situation most PC gamers should feel at least some degree of aversion toward; while no one expects the two graphics companies to engineer chips that are mirror copies in terms of capabilities, performance, and supported features, who enjoys spending 100s of dollars on a new graphics board that cannot enable a visual effect it fully supports in hardware and is perfectly capable of using? This type of proprietary support rightfully belongs in the console market with its fixed hardware platforms. It will be very interesting to see in the coming months whether or not Chaos Theory’s shader profile 3.0 will work with future ATI hardware that supports Shader Model 3.0, or if that profile will remain closed to ATI just as the 2.0 profile is currently closed to NVIDIA hardware.


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