PS3 smoothing beyond that of high-end PC graphics card

January 5, 2010

PS3 smoothing beyond that of high-end PC graphics card The PS3 is truly an amazing piece of hardware that is surprising everyone as time passes. Digital Foundry recently conducted an interesting analysis on the tech used in the game Saboteur, which revealed that the PS3 is capable of producing something even a high-end PC graphics card has difficulty with.

As a software developer by trade, new and intriguing tech has always been like crack to me. I recall the mystery and awe when hyper-threading was first introduced and one of our major clients requested that we upgrade our latest version of the software to take advantage of HT.

In a similar vein, the Cell processor is cutting edge stuff. The Cell in conjunction with the GPU is capable of squeezing out 2.0 trillion  floating point operations per second on the fly, which is super-computer worthy and out performs the Xbox 360’s 355 billion floating operation points/second. This is the type of tech running on the latest IBM Blades residing in our maximum security data centers near DC.

Digital Foundry recently did an analysis showing that the post-processing tech, once thought to be MSAA, on the PS3 apparently is far more advanced than anything seen. Anti-aliasing or edge smoothing has always been a challenge even on the PC front.

The Xbox 360 can do up to 4x MSAA via the built in graphics card. However, the PS3 has an NVIDIA card which really doesn’t do much in the post-processing department as it was initially intended to be left off the console. The Cell processor was originally supposed to handle all graphics processing, but due to concerns that it would be difficult for the developers to program on, a decision was made to incorporate a limited graphics card.


However, Sony’s intent was for the developers to utilize the Cell processors eventually leaning off the graphics card crutch. We have seen developers like Naughty Dog who have mostly moved off the graphics card in the PS3 and are now utilizing the SPUs fully in the Cell processor as seen in Uncharted 2. According to DF, the developers for Saboteur also utilized one of the SPUs to do the post-processing work resulting in edge-smoothing beyond the capabilities of a 16x MSAA found on high-end PC graphics card.

The PS3 rendition of Pandemic’s The Saboteur is different though. It’s special. It’s trying something new that’s never been seen before on console, or indeed PC, and its results are terrific. In a best-case scenario you get edge-smoothing that is beyond the effect of 16x multi-sampling anti-aliasing, effectively delivering an effect better than the capabilities of high-end GPUs without crippling performance. Compare and contrast with Xbox 360 hardware, which tops out at 4x MSAA.

Note: DF made a correction, there are a few titles that have tried this but not to the level of success Pandemic has had.

With only a few studios attempting this tech, it will be interesting to see more developers relying on the Cell processor in the future.

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