Earlier today, we reported that Ubisoft Montreal had updated their excellent Sneak 'em Up - Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - with patch 1.04, allowing ATI's video cards to make use of a Shader Model 2.0 path inside the game.
It turns out that ATI's developer relations team sat down with Ubisoft Montreal and spent a considerable amount of time working together with them to develop a Shader Model 2.0 path for their current generation video cards. At the time the news broke, we hadn't had the chance to check out the game ourselves to see what the new patch brought to gamers that owned ATI video cards. We had the chance to sit down yesterday afternoon and install the new patch, only to find some interesting additions.
New Shader Options:
The display settings default to Shader Model 1.1 still, as with all video cards when you first install them. However, on installing an ATI video card, you are given the option to select a Shader Model 2.0 path providing the hardware supports it; legacy cards like the Radeon 8500 don't support it. Interestingly, there is also the familiar 'Advanced Shader Options' that is present when a Shader Model 3.0-capable video card is installed - currently NVIDIA GeForce 6 series or above, though ATI's next GPU, the R520, will support Shader Model 3.0 as well.
ATI have worked with Ubisoft Montreal to bring HDR, Parallax Mapping, High Quality Soft Shadows and Tone Mapping to their current generation video cards.
Subjective First Impressions:
After playing through the Lighthouse level on our HIS Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition closely followed by a GeForce 7800 GTX, we got the impression that the Shader Model 2.0 HDR implementation is not quite up to the same standard as what could be achieved on NVIDIA's GeForce 6 and GeForce 7 parts. However, speaking subjectively, the differences were pretty hard to see without running two monitors side by side - the difference wasn't so dramatic that you would feel shortchanged on the Radeon.
As you can imagine, HDR is not easy to capture in a screen shot due to the fact that it is rendered dynamically and, of course, on-the-fly by the GPU. Along with that, due to the darkness of the game, and the way it has been engineered; the HDR implementation, in general, is a little more subtle than the implementation that has been seen in the likes of Far Cry. However, we found a good selection of areas showing some great high-dynamic range effects, enabling us to try and make some static comparisons between the two different implementations.