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Some display and multimedia changes
Although Barts hasn't changed much in the 3D department, it has seen some revisions in other places, including its display and video playback hardware. AMD has made quite a bit of hay out of being able to support three or more monitors with a single GPU over the past year, particularly in relation to multi-screen gaming with Eyefinity. We're not suprised, then, to see the firm pushing ahead with support for newer display output capabilities.

The most noteworthy change here is probably support for version 1.2 of the DisplayPort standard. This version has twice the bandwidth of 1.1 and enables some novel capabilities. One of those is transport for high-bitrate audio, including the Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats, over DisplayPort. Another is the ability to drive multiple displays off of a single output, either via daisy chaining or the use of a break-out DisplayPort hub with multiple outputs. In one example AMD shared with us, a hub could sport four DVI outputs and drive all of those displays via one DP input. What's more, Barts-based Radeons can support multiple display timings and resolutions over a single connector, so there's tremendous flexibility involved. In fact, for this reason, AMD has no need to offer a special six-output Eyefinity edition of the Radeon HD 6870.


The output array on XFX's Radeon HD 6870

Barts' standard port array will sport two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, a single HDMI output, one dual-link DVI port, and one single-link DVI output. Yes, AMD has chosen to drop dual-link support on that second DVI output in favor of more DisplayPort connectivity, and yes, that move seems to be a bit premature to us. A Barts-based card can drive a second dual-link DVI monitor using a DisplayPort to DVI converter, but the dual-link versions of those dongles tend to be relatively pricey. Then again, so are monitors that require dual-link inputs.

Speaking of expensive things, that other port on the card above supports HDMI 1.4a, so it's compatible with stereoscopic televisions and can be used for the playback of Blu-ray discs in stereoscopic 3D. One other modification of note to the Barts display output hardware is an update to its color gamut correction that should allow for more accurate color representation on wide-gamut panels.

If you do plan to slip on a pair of funny glasses in your living room in order to watch a movie, you should be happy to hear that the Barts UVD block can now decode the MVC codec (used for Blu-ray 3D discs) in hardware, along with the MPEG4 (DivX/Xvid) codec. AMD has also extended its support for MPEG2 acceleration to the entropy decode stage of the video pipeline, further unburdening the CPU. No UVD update would be complete without some improvements to the post-processing routines used to address problems with low-quality source video, and AMD hasn't left us hanging there, either. What's more, at its 6800-series press event, AMD had representatives from CyberLink, ArcSoft, and DivX on hand to pledge support for the new UVD hardware in their respective media player programs.

Beyond those changes, the folks in AMD marketing have been working overtime on some crucial marketing name modifications, playing off of the success of "Eyefinity" as a semi-clever play on the word "eye." We now have EyeSpeed and EyeDef, although I kind of get fuzzy when it comes to tying those things to GPU attributes. I do know that AMD's Stream Computing initiative has been renamed as AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing Technology, which has a lot more vowels and consonants.

On the initiative front, AMD has decided to counter Nvidia's 3D Vision push by partnering with third-party makers of shutter glasses, stereoscopic displays, and middleware that adds stereoscopic 3D support to current games. These activities will take place under the "HD3D" banner. We're a little bit unsure what to make of this effort, for a host of reasons, including the simple fact that we're dubious on the long-term prospects for glasses-based stereoscopic display schemes. We also have a pretty strong impression that the GPU makers will need to support stereo 3D actively and work directly with game developers in order to get really good results. Middleware vendors like DDD, one of AMD's new partners, don't help their case when they claim, for instance, that their TriDef Media Player "automatically" converts 2D source DVD, photos, and videos to stereoscopic 3D. Cardboard cutouts, ahoy! On the flip side, we expect AMD isn't investing too much in stereoscopic support by cobbling together an initiative like this one. If stereo 3D schemes prove unpopular with consumers, they'll have less to lose. In other words, Nvidia is grabbing failure—or success—by its bare hands, while AMD is using robotic arms.