X marks the spot: Is Microsoft's DirectX 10 a real treasure?

X marks the spot: Is Microsoft's DirectX 10 a real treasure?

Anyone for an upgrade?
Although the channel has been left waiting for the software to come into the pipeline and drive demand, hardware suppliers are already in on the ground floor. Graphics cards manufacturers, such as Nvidia and ATI, have moved quickly to standardise on DirectX 10 graphics cards, offering significant technical improvements without pumping up prices.

Executive director of components distributor Westan, Kamil Aghtan, said new DirectX 10 graphic cards will boost performance in gaming and multimedia systems.

"By providing a more stable platform of operation and increased speeds for DirectDraw, the unified architecture model also allows a DirectX 10 graphics card to process more than just 3D images," he said. "What you'll actually get with a combination of the Vista operating system and a DirectX 10 graphics card is a machine which can handle video output, and multiprocessing much better, because the video cards take better care of the multimedia side of things, leaving the CPU to focus on other tasks."

Pioneer Computers product manager, Jeff Li, said there was already strong demand for DirectX 10 systems, and not just from gamers who wanted to stay ahead of the pack.

"Customers always want new technology, whether it's for their games or for graphics design and multimedia systems," Li said. "The transition to the new video cards didn't affect prices at all, so customers actually prefer to have the new video cards installed in their systems." According to Li, at least 50 per cent of his customer base is asking for systems with DirectX 10 technology, despite significant reductions in the price of DirectX 9 video cards.

"A lot of our customer base is serious gamers, or professional users who want to ensure they buy into future-proof technology," he said.

Marketing manager for components distributor Achieva, Kevin Qi, agreed and said he expected the digital home entertainment market to receive a boost from the DirectX 10 upgrade.

"We are already seeing DirectX 10 cards becoming the mainstream now," he said. "The new video cards coming out from ATI are actually designed to create more interest from the digital home entertainment market as well as the games community."

Qi said improvements in high-definition video processing, and a simplified output combining audio and visual outputs in a single socket, made the new cards ideally suited to the digital home entertainment market. This combination had been made more attractive by the fact the new DirectX 10 video cards had come into the market at or below the price of previous DirectX 9 video cards.

"A lot of people like it because they can get real high-definition video without sacrificing the CPU's performance generally," Qi said. "That makes a big difference to digital home entertainment systems." Oddly enough, the introduction of the DirectX 10 cards is also leading to increased demand for graphics cards and systems which support DirectX 9, according to Westan's Aghtan.

"The introduction of the DirectX 10 cards has simultaneously made better quality DirectX 9 a very attractive option for keen gamers, because pricing will drop as they are being marked end-of-life and being cleared out of warehouses," he said. "Until the DirectX 10 games come into the shops, it makes more sense for some gamers to buy a higher spec DirectX 9 card and get better performance than they would on a standard DirectX 10 card."

What to watch for
While gamers ultimately stand to benefit from this kind of improved graphic performance, it may be some time before the games themselves catch up with the new technology. Keeping a keen eye on the market, Games Traders franchisee, Mark Rosser, said he was yet to see DirectX 10 titles make any impression on the Australian market. He didn't expect the new technology to make inroads until well into the new year.

"It's not going to have a massive impact until there's a major game that really drives people to want the new technology," he said. "At the moment nobody is asking for it, and the games that are going to be popular this Christmas aren't ready for DirectX 10 quite yet."

According to Rosser, the bread and butter of games software sales lies in the sub-$20 games, with only a small percentage of his customers actually seeking out the latest technology. "It won't be until we get a couple of big name titles using DirectX 10 that people will start to come in and ask for it, or want to upgrade their machines," Rosser said. "There needs to be a significant difference between what you're able to do with the different systems before it will drive a change in the market."

However, there are a trickle of DirectX 10 titles already available: from the first person shooter, Shadowrun, to Microsoft's own Flight Simulator X: Adrenaline. In time for Christmas, Flagship Studios may come up with a DirectX 10 version of Hellgate: London, while Crytek's has promised to integrate the new technology into its Crysis title by November.

And although some argue it will take 3-5 years for the new graphics system to become generally accepted, through 2008 this trickle should grow to a steady flow of DirectX 10 games driving interest in Vista systems and demand for PC upgrades generally.

Microsoft's De Silva said the channel could expect to see this gradual transition to the new technology as games and other graphics applications come online. "We will start seeing more of an affect soon as more games and applications utilising DirectX 10 hit the market," he said. "Firstly, PC users will see a richer experience when playing games or using multimedia applications on their Windows Vista PCs. Secondly, developers have more capabilities to develop games and multimedia applications to support the new Windows Display Driver Model. Then customers who are after a digital entertainment system will want to look at Windows Vista with media centre integration and a HD DVD drive because DirectX 10 improves the visuals of high-definition content such as HD DVD."

As it turns out there's more to Vista than first impressions suggested.

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