Say you're AMD, and you make graphics chips that nearly double in performance with every generation. Yet games haven't been getting all that much more demanding over time. What would you do with all of that excess power, especially if you wanted to stir up interest in your latest product?
AMD's answer at the moment is a new feature it calls Eyefinity. Here's the basic concept: through the magic of its next-generation GPU and an array of compact DisplayPort connections, a single GPU can drive up to six high-megapixel displays for gaming at resolutions that boggle the mind. The example I saw in action today looked like this:
That's six Dell 30" monitors, each at a resolution of 2560x1600, showing Dead Space at over 24 megapixels. The game ran fluidly, and as you can see, your character on screen is pretty much life-sized, if not a little larger.
I didn't snap a picture of it, but I checked the back of the PC accomplishing this feat, and all six of the DisplayPort connections were plugged into a single expansion slot. Not only did games like Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft play smoothly, but DiRT 2, a DirectX 11 game, ran at more or less acceptable frame rates and looked stunning doing it, as well.
Suporting six monitors with a single graphics card will require a specialized board, since most don't ship with six DisplayPort connectors across the back. But most cards based on the forthcoming Radeons will be able to drive three ultra-high-res displays of various types. Here's AMD's Dave Baumann showing off DiRT 2 on a triple-monitor setup.
If you're an old-timer like me, you're probably having flashbacks to the days of the Matrox Parhelia and TripleHead, a similar feature that didn't fit well with the Parhelia's inability to run games at sufficient speeds on even a single display.
By contrast, AMD says quite a few of today's games run just fine at such mega-resolutions. Part of the trick to making this work is that Windows sees the array of monitors as a single display device, which helps with game compatibility. AMD's drivers then handle the task of setting up the displays and coordinating their relative positions. I got a quick look at an early version of the control panel wizard designed for this task, and it's already reasonably straightforward to use.
AMD seems to think Eyefinity could be a pretty compelling feature for some folks, and no doubt playing DiRT 2 on a 24+ megapixel display is an interesting experience, at least. Part of AMD's pitch for Eyefinity is based on the realities of monitor pricing: three relatively nice displays could be had for the price of a single 34" high-density monster. So why not build a gaming setup with three displays instead?
Although the demo we saw today was based on conventional Dell 30" monitors, AMD has been working with Samsung on Eyefinity support and has plans involving monitors with very narrow bezels, so that many displays can act together as one with a minimum of visual interruption. The company may also incorporate a feature in its graphics drivers to compensate for the visual offsets caused by bezels. Still, if this takes off, three-display setups will almost certainly be the most popular variation, because four- and six-display configs will have the display edges interruputing the dead-center focal point—where the crosshair goes in first-person shooters, among other things.
One can't help but think of Eyefinity as a rival of sorts to Nvidia's GeForce 3D Vision scheme, which involves per-game compatibility profiles, steep GPU requirements, specialized 3D glasses, and 120Hz displays—or Jaws 3D-style red-and-blue glasses in its ghetto guise. The question is whether Eyefinity will gain any more traction than Nvidia's 3D tech has with consumers. I have my doubts. The peripheral vision afforded by a wrap-around three-way display might be nice for locating zombies in Left 4 Dead, but one wonders whether so having so very many pixels—and the GPU requirements that come along with them—really makes sense when another option is planting a giant-screen HDTV in front of your gaming rig and calling it good.
Then again, ultra-megapixel monitor arrays aren't just good for gaming. Google Earth looks mighty impressive at 7680x3200, as well, and workstation users don't have the budgetary constraints of your typical gamer, either.