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Microsoft Shares More DirectX 12 Goodness at GDC 2016

Microsoft announced several new feature sets in their latest API for Windows and Xbox One, mainly stuff about pixel brightness. However they did announce that DirectX 12 has seen massive uptake by Developers on both platforms. The list of new feature sets as below, mainly focus on how they’re making the API easier to implement, by removing features nobody uses and adding some that people want.

Also noted in the slides at GDC was that the new API will see HDR implementation which Microsoft claims is more important than 4K. According to Microsoft, customers have a difficult time to ‘see’ 4K images unless they’re strapped to their TV. What I found most interesting is how they plan on managing different brightness settings for seperate pixels. An example was given, as a game set in space, each of the stars might have varying brightness. Currently all pixels on games are set to standard 1.0 ‘Email’ brightness. Also noted was that Gsync, Vsync and Freesync doesn’t work properly (seen in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War Ultimate on PC), and Microsoft is working on fixing these issues as soon as possible.

Below is all the notes from the talk at GDC:

  • The adoption of DirectX 12 is “huge” among developers, with many more games being worked on.
  • Microsoft is working on improving stability and performance of the API.
  • At the moment V-sync tearing, Freesync and G-Sync don’t work correctly, but the team is working actively to solve the issue and to get an update ready as soon as possible, even if a release date hasn’t been shared. More details will come at Build Conference at the end of the month.
  • Xbox PIX (performance analysis tool for developer) is going to be ported to Windows’ development tools. More details will be shared later this year.
  • The team is working on both Windows 10 and Xbox One, so improvements will work across the two platforms.
  • The HLSL update (HLSL stands for High-Level Shader Language, which is the proprietary shader language for Direct3D) has the objective to expose the latest hardware features in order to enable developers to innovate. There’s focus on GPU programming, and the team will adopt the best ideas from across the industry.
  • Shader Model 6 will be implemented, introducing new features.
  • The team is working on a concept called procedural textures, which is a new hardware feature that lets developers vary dynamically the amount of pixels rendered in a particular screen area, controlling performance by varying the image quality of individual parts of a frame independently of the rest of the screen.
  • Innovations that require driver updates will come in the second time of the year, but the rest can be implemented at any time. Those will be added with a much higher frequency than driver changes.
  • Some features will be deprecated because no one really uses them, while others will be implemented, including language-level features in the second half of the year.
  • Developers can write their own tools based on the tech, and Microsoft provides a sample to show how to do it.
  • Microsoft predicts that adoption of High Dynamic Range will be faster than that of 4k. It’s more clearly noticeable to users than 4k, with several TV models that have begun shopping. It’s very difficult for the average consumer to tell the difference between 1080p and 4k unless they get very close to the screen, whereas HDR is something that end users, not just professional graphics artists can see the advantage of.
  • On a fundamental level, HDR allows a display to emit a peak brightness for certain pixels that is a hundred times higher than on today’s TVs. You can’t run every pixel at that brightness, but having parts of it like stars of floodlights with that kind of brightness is a “big win,”
  • Windows will allow content to access that additional value.
  • At the moment games are locked to a brightness that some define “paperweight” or “email background” color, which is comparable to the brightness of the white background of your mail set so that it’s readable. It’s basically the equivalent of a white sheet of paper. That’s the “1.0 value.”
  • With the new features, the email background will still be set at 1.0 value, but bright spots in games, photos and movies will be able to go substantially above that.
  • Developers will be able to submit really high values of brightness, and they will be clamped only when it’ll be absolutely necessary.
  • Color gamuts will work the same way. How colorful a scene can be is currently limited by the official range of colors that current display of windows and HDTV are set at. Going forward those limits will also be removed, and developers will be able to use more than the currently used 30% of the human visual range, up to 75 or 80%. This will allow games to express things visually that they can’t today.
  • When you see a white spot in a game, you don’t really know if it’s a piece of plaster, the reflection of the sun, or a glowing object, because they’re all clamped to the same 1.0 value. With HDR diffuse surfaces like plaster could be set close to 1.0, while light sources could be two or three times brighter, allowing the user to actually distinguish what the object is. It will be a new level of realism.
  • As Windows will be able to support HDR on all of its devices, there won’t be a limit to what panel vendors can create.
  • To take advantage of this, developers need to utilize physically based rendering, which is already widespread among most AAA productions and keep their reference values such as 1.0 is at about 80-100 nits.
  • After that, developers just need to tweak the buffer values in their game engines so that the intensity of the light sources is actually what it really would be. Most of the content of the game like textures and meshes doesn’t need any additional work.
  • Post-production effects also need to be tweaked a bit. For instance, bloom is used currently to show that something is really bright, when it really isn’t, because the screen cannot display it. With High Dynamic Range that’s not necessary anymore, and actually using a strong bloom with High Dynamic Range overdoes the effect.
  • The UI also needs not to be too bright, and black outlines might be necessary in the case it’s displayed in front of things like sunlight reflecting on water. Movie makers are currently running in the same issue with subtitles.
  • Two formats will be supported, one with a maximum luminance of 5.2 million nits, and the other with a maximum luminance of 10,000 nits.
  • When buying an HDR panel. people should look at the actual maximum brightness. Most retailers actually try to hide them and have you buy according to brand.
  • The support of larger color gamuts is less important, as they require more changes to the art of the game, and users can’t tell the difference as easily as with HDR. That said, it will be supported at the same time as HDR on Windows.
  • Microsoft plans to deliver this feature to developers in calendar year 2016 (those in the Windows Insider program should get an update with it in the second half of the year), while it should become available to end users in calendar year 2017.

DirectX 12 is currently the featured API on both Windows 10 and Xbox One. Games which uses the API is Star Wars Battlefront, Gears of War Ultimate, Ashes of the Singularity, with upcoming Quantum Break also expected to use the groundbreaking API.

David Whitaker
David Whitakerhttp://Ticgamesnetwork.com
I'm David Whitaker and I'm just a man who loves talking about the video game industry

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