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Barely a year has passed since I last wrote an article about the latest video card features that gamers should know about 5 New Video Card Features You Should Know About [MakeUseOf Explains] 5 New Video Card Features You Should Know About [MakeUseOf Explains] Computer games are not difficult for most modern video cards to handle, but that hasn’t stopped the performance war between AMD and NVIDIA. It’s only raised the bar. 1080p is now a mundane resolution. To... Read More . The pace of innovation has only increased since then, which means that, surprisingly, there are four brand new features that you should keep an eye on. While none of them have made a huge impact so far, three of the four could become very important in the near future.

AMD’s Mantle API

This new feature is the only one from AMD in the past year, but it has the potential to be the most revolutionary. Indeed, calling it a feature slights the importance of Mantle. This API could change the way games communicate with video cards – forever.

Most games sold today use Microsoft’s DirectX 2 Ways To Force DirectX Applications To Launch As Windowed Instead Of Fullscreen [Windows] 2 Ways To Force DirectX Applications To Launch As Windowed Instead Of Fullscreen [Windows] If you want to casually play a game in a windowed mode where you can watch other things and talk to friends through email or IMs, you should be able to. Certain games (most often,... Read More or the less popular Open GL, a pair of APIs developed with the explicit purpose of helping game developers code games with impressive 3D graphics. Both have been successful in that regard, but AMD believes their time has passed, and they need to be replaced with a more modern alternative.

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Mantle, of course, is that alternative. What sets it apart from current APIs is its emphasis on low-level manipulation of the hardware. Both DirectX and Open GL are “high-level” programming languages, which means the code developers write to make a game is not what the hardware actually runs. A compiler is used to translate between the programming language and the code executed by a video card.

A “low-level” API like Mantle, on the other hand, uses very little abstraction. The code a developer writes in Mantle is much closer to the code actually executed by a video card. This improves performance and could allow developers more flexibility when choosing rendering techniques.

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So, what does this mean for you? That remains to be seen, though you won’t have to wait long. AMD has partnered with DICE to debut Mantle support for Battlefield 4 by Christmas of this year, and they claim (of course) that improved performance will result. If it does result in a big boost, it will give AMD’s Radeons a notable edge against its GeForce rivals, and may herald a revolution in how games are programmed; if it doesn’t, Mantle may simply be forgotten.

Shadowplay

While AMD has one big new feature to talk about, Nvidia has released three. We’ll start with the least innovative first.

Shadowplay is essentially an in-game video recording tool that’s been baked into Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software. It automatically captures your last ten to twenty minutes of gameplay by using your computer’s hard drive as a buffer. When something occurs in-game that you want to save and edit later, you can hit Alt + F10 to save the buffer as a .mp4 video file. This lets you immortalize your “1337” skills on YouTube, for all the world to ignore.

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Cynicism aside, this is a nice feature for gamers who are into competitive action games. While software capable of recording gameplay How To Benchmark & Troubleshoot Game Performance Using Fraps How To Benchmark & Troubleshoot Game Performance Using Fraps Read More has existed for years, it usually cost money and doesn’t allow you to capture moments that just occurred, which means you have to run it constantly. And that means you need a pretty big hard drive to handle the massive video files that result. Shadowplay is a more elegant solution – and it’s free.

This feature only works for gamers with a GTX 600 or GTX 700 series graphics card, however. Those with older hardware are out of luck.

Gamestream

The second new feature debuted by Nvidia over the last year is Gamestream, and the name really says it all. It’s a technology for streaming games – more specifically, for streaming games from your desktop computer to another device in your home.

At the moment that other device is going to be the Nvidia Shield NVIDIA Shield Review And Giveaway NVIDIA Shield Review And Giveaway Recently, we reviewed the Wikipad, which managed to make its way to market before NVIDIA's highly anticipated Shield. Ever since NVIDIA showcased the Shield at CES, I've found myself more and more fascinated by it. After... Read More , the company’s rather pricey handheld game console. Though it can run Android games, Shield also can stream games from a desktop computer to the handheld, making it possible to play titles like Borderlands 2 on the couch or in bed.

nvidiashield

Though that’s interesting, it’s not of much use if you don’t have a Shield. But it might be soon. Mad Catz plans to support Gamestream with its upcoming M.O.J.O micro-console, which means the feature could become a cheap way to play PC games on a big-screen TV. There is also some speculation that Valve’s Steam Machines, which are being initially tested with Nvidia graphics hardware only, will support this feature.

You’ll need a GTX 650 (or better) desktop video card to use this feature. Notebooks currently do not support it.

G-Sync

Last, but certainly not least, is Nvidia’s G-Sync.

This feature attempts to solve a long-standing problem for PC gamers; the fact that monitor refresh rate is usually fixed, but the frame rate a video card puts out can fluctuate. This creates a synchronization problem; when a monitor refreshes, it may end up with data from multiple frames. When that happens the screen can be seen to tear, a distraction that seriously breaks immersion.

A graphics feature known as V-Sync has been employed to get around this problem. It caps framerate so that the timing of frames sent to the monitor matches its refresh rate. This usually means a cap of 60 FPS or 30 FPS. Though this solves screen tearing, it also reduces the perception of fluidity while playing the game and increases display lag.

G-Sync’s solution is to make a monitor’s refresh rate variable and then allow it to communicate with the video card so it knows the rate at which it should refresh. This occurs dynamically, so screen tearing is never an issue, and the framerate is never capped. This is made possible by a chip inside the monitor itself.

Alas, that’s the catch. You need a compatible monitor Computer Monitors For Gaming: How Do You Choose The Right One? Computer Monitors For Gaming: How Do You Choose The Right One? Read More to use this feature, and the only compatible monitor available right now is the VG248QE. That’s a good monitor, to be sure, but I doubt gamers want to buy a new monitor just to use a video card feature.

With that said, though, G-Sync shouldn’t be dismissed. Fluidity is very important for immersion and the difference made by this feature can be noticeable, particularly in action games that run at a high framerate. Hardcore fans of games like Diablo 3 or Call Of Duty, for example, should check this feature out and consider it when purchasing a video card and/or monitor.

  1. josh
    November 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    The last two sound relatively worthless, the second one is pretty meh. I like the idea of the first though. Luckily I was already planning on a Radeon card to begin with. So yay for me.

  2. Tom W
    November 26, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Mantle seems interesting, but in reality I suspect that it'll just mean that there are now three competing standards that a game developer needs to think about when developing a game for the largest audience. Or four, when Nvidia inevitably announces that they have one too. Mantle would work so much better if it was vendor neutral.

    • Matt S
      December 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      I'm skeptical of Mantle for the same reasons, but AMD does have leverage because its hardware is in the new consoles.

    • Tom W
      December 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      Even if the consoles are taking advantage of Mantle, they have their own API above it so developers probably won't notice it, or begin coding for it, until the very end of the generation when they have to start pushing the hardware to the very edge of what is possible. Unless AMD corner the PC market too, Mantle will just be another gimmick in the GPU wars.

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