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Review: ATI Avivo Video and Display Engine - Technology Discussion

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 20 September 2005, 00:00

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Introduction

Avivo Logo

HEXUS.note

This technology discussion is based in large part on a whitepaper and presentation PDF supplied by ATI themselves, on their own technology. Accompanying hardware that provides the latter stages of an Avivo implementation wasn't used to verify the claims made. While HEXUS have witnessed pre-release Avivo-equipped display adaptors fully working and displaying video, that demonstration is certainly not enough to make a final judgement on the technology talked about in this article.

We await Avivo-equipped products to verify what's presented in the following pages. Please bear that in mind when reading about the technology ATI are presenting today.

Introduction

This is an article about brand new display and video controller technology about to debut on upcoming ATI graphics products. Before I relay what's good, permit me a page of rage as I tell you about a facet of their current stuff that really irks. I'm sure they won't mind. You get a world-class 3D accelerator with fine video silicon to boot, and you get it on a bloody graphics card with analogue-only video outputs.

DVI was invented by the Digital Display Working Group (ddwg.org), a consortium of vendors interested in the advance of digital displays for PCs and consumer devices, back in 1998.

As a standard, it carries digital display data as a series of colour and brightness values for the pixels in the digital display it's driving. You've got 165MHz of available bandwidth in a single DVI link using the PanelLink transmission format invented by Silicon Image, carrying RGB data as binary down the wire, allowing you around 2.6 million pixels of output at 60Hz.

Need more than that? Add another link. Since the inception of the standard all those years ago and certainly in the last couple of years, ASICs to take output from a graphics processor and present it as a DVI signal have been available for a volume cost of bugger all. The fairly large connector required to take that signal and pass it to a display is the thick end of nothing in terms of board cost too. Believe me, I've asked for quotes.

The absolute killer part of DVI though is that it carries analogue too.

Following on from DVI being more obvious than breathing as the output choice you want these days, if you spend money on a graphics product today - barring the dirt cheap and the integrated of course - you're purchasing a graphics card with two display outputs. You see, dual outputs have become the norm in recent years and for good reason. You can't have enough screen real estate and the easiest way to get that is to add another monitor. Or two. Or three. Dropping more graphics cards into a PC has been doable since ATI started making consumer graphics boards you'd actually want to buy.

However ATI, forever the comedians, to this very day release expensive graphics SKUs with dual outputs (good!), but with one of them basic analogue VGA. Just as hilarious are the AIBs. Companies with the ability to deviate from the norm and spec dual DVI anyway do that about as often as I get down the gym. It's 2005, dumbasses, and about time digital main display outputs made it to market as the across-the-board norm for literally 99% of desktop graphics SKUs. I've been whining like a baby about that for years now and frankly it feels good to say it one more time.

If you're an employee from one of the other IHVs peddling graphics boards into the consumer space, stop laughing since you 'orrible lot aren't absolved from the same horrors. That said, NVIDIA do it best with plenty of their AIBs offering dual-DVI boards from the 6600 family up now. Buy anything over £200 or so from them and you're almost guaranteed digital for both main outputs.

So it's about time ATI realised it's the 21st century and gave us digital outputs (that carry analogue VGA remember) across the board, eh? Rant over, onto the actual business in hand.

ATI seek to please with a next generation of video capture, display output and video controllers under the Avivo umbrella. Related to display output, Avivo fixes my whinge with a pair of dual-link DVI outputs, fitted to the low-end up (!) via two built-in TMDS transmitters, and brings the rest of the video path, from input to output, up to modern standards.

Join me as I skip merrily through the sunkissed fields of video and display technology as brought to you (hopefully) by ATI on a display adaptor in the very near future. I talk tech a fair bit, but fear not, I've had a go at making it easy to understand and the last page will sum the lot up if you feel dizzy by the end.