We've all been waiting for DirectX 10 games to come out and many are wondering when and whether to upgrade their video cards. Not too many titles have targetted DX10 yet, possibly because of the poor support of current-gen consoles: Microsoft's Xbox 360 only supports DX10 as a DX9 port, meaning you won't be seeing any of the new features and you'll probably get smacked with terrible performance. Still, some games have been announced on the DX10 platform, with Crysis and Company of Heroes leading the charge. That's not to say that DX10 can't improve on DX9 games.
Benchmark tests are becoming more frequent on gaming websites. The demo for Lost Planet has received considerable attention as an Xbox 360 port with limited DX10 tweaks. An early article by Maximum PC identified a severe performance hit with very little improvement in visual quality to show for it. A GameSpot article from May noted:
"The game looks great in both DirectX 9 and 10, but we couldn't tell much of a difference between the two versions. Shadows looked slightly better in DirectX 10, but that's only because we could change the shadows setting to high, whereas in DirectX 9 we could only use the medium setting. After failing to see any major graphical differences between the two versions, we asked Capcom about what makes the DirectX 10 version special. A Capcom representative told us that the DirectX 10 improvements primarily enhanced performance by up to '10 to 20 percent' through the use of 'geometry shaders, depth resolve, and stream output.' That means that the Lost Planet demo is only using DirectX 10 to increase performance, not to produce advanced graphics effects."
Much more recently, benchmark testers took a stab at BioShock to determine if the DX technology could make improvements to a game that was already pushing the limits. An article at FiringSquad found very little difference in performance between DX10 and its predecessor, while noticing some slightly more apparent visual changes concerning the smoothness of particle effects and the crispness of shadows. In fact, DX10 seems to remove all traces of hard edges in semi-transparent surfaces.
Perhaps BioShock was an exception. Company of Heroes was expected to be an introduction to some of DX10's advanced features but seems to have fallen short of the mark. bit-tech.net reports that the results are no better than those seen in Lost Planet:
"Extra detail on the terrain and a little more smoke and physics effects make the game look a fair bit better, although you don't really realise it at the time unless you look for it deliberately, though we will admit that the short grass effects are very nice and on comparison the close-up terrain textures do look better. Still, it takes a comparison screenshot to really illustrate the difference as the effect isn't exactly enough to bowl us over on its own.
"The problem was though that the these effects did take a while to spot and weren't the groundbreaking advances that we have been waiting for. The benefits of DirectX 10 are definitely present in Company of Heroes, but you won't miss them if you can't get to them and, realistically, nobody's going to buy Vista to run a year-old RTS, especially when the improvements aren't that dramatic, especially when the performance is, well, rather poor at the moment."
The real determinant in the DX debate will be the achievements of the much anticipated title Crysis, which was developed with DirectX 10 in mind. According to the game's chief fan site inCrysis.com, Crytek, the developers of Crysis and previously Far Cry, released the following details on September 13:
"As for the DX9 version we won't have physics and day and night cycle in-game. That means you won't be able to shoot down trees and/or alter any other objects than vehicles on the map. Additionally the time of day setting doesn't change dynamically. This is caused due to the tremendous server load such physics might cause on crowded gaming servers. Still you will be able to experience maps with different time of day settings since the maps can be altered in the Sandbox2 Editor.
"Rather than providing the community partially working features we limit this for the DX10 version only. Due to the strong hardware available with DX10, server load is less and performance is increased. This ensures the pure physics and day and night cycle experience without any limitation.
"Gamers with a DX10 card are able to play on DX9 servers, but with the limitation of the respective server. Vice versa it is not possible for gamers with DX9 cards to play on DX10 servers due to the limited features."
We can't wait to see side-by-side comparisons for this one.
DX10 drivers are still in their early stages but both NVidia and ATI have native-DX10 cards available in stores. But wait! Don't run out to get a DX10 video card just yet. In early August, Microsoft released details of DX10.1 at SIGGRAPH which have caused quite a bit of concern in the user communities. ExtremeTech alerted us that "DX 10.1 hardware will be backwards compatible with DirectX 10, but current DX10 hardware won't be forward compatible. So games looking to support DX 10.1 still need a DX 10 rendering path to support today's DX10 cards." The Inquirer reads between the lines for us and had this to say:
"DX10 hardware - such as the GeForce 8800 or the Radeon 2900 - won't work with the new 10.1 features. The 0.1 revision requires completely new hardware for support, thus royally cheesing off many gamers who paid top whack for their new hardware over the last few months on the basis of future game compatibility.
"But these gamers shouldn't fret too much - 10.1 adds virtually nothing that they will care about and, more to the point, adds almost nothing that developers are likely to care about. The spec revision basically makes a number of things that are optional in DX10 compulsory under the new standard - such as 32-bit floating point filtering, as opposed to the 16-bit current. 4xAA is a compulsory standard to support in 10.1, whereas graphics vendors can pick and choose their anti-aliasing support currently.
"We suspect that the spec is likely to be ill-received. Not only does it require brand new hardware, immediately creating a miniscule sub-set of DX10 owners, but it also requires Vista SP1, and also requires developer implementation."
The DX10.1 spec won't be out until Vista SP1, due in the first half of 2008, so it may still be a while before we know how game developers feel about it. If you're still willing to take the risk (the release of Crysis on November 16 may very well be reason enough), the average video card supporting DX10 will cost you about $500 CDN on average, with high-end models such as the GeForce 8800 Ultra topping the list at about $850 CDN.