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Making games more lively
New nVidia chip to bring cinema-quality graphics to forthcoming Sims, EverQuest programs.
November 18, 2002: 11:30 AM EST
By Chris Morris, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - After a series of frustrating delays, nVidia will officially introduce its next generation graphics chip later Monday. The GeForce FX, said the company, will be the fastest 3D video chip on the market and will take desktop PCs a step closer to delivering cinematic-quality graphics.

That could herald a new look for computer games in the coming years, according to Bill Rehbock, director of developer relations for nVidia.

"Everyone sees 3D graphics as hard core," he said. "We're seeing companies like Sony embrace this technology for 'EverQuest2'. You're going to see this sort of technology get embraced with things like the next generation 'Sims' titles from Electronic Arts."

The GeForce FX could bring more lifelike characters, such as this, to computer games.

The fifth installment in the company's GeForce line of chips won't make it onto most store shelves before the holidays, though. While there will be limited shipments before the end of the year, graphics cards using the GeForce FX aren't expected to be readily available until late January or February.

Approximately three times more powerful than the GeForce Ti4600 (nVidia's current top of the line chip), the GeForce FX is two steps beyond the graphics chip nVidia supplied for the Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) Xbox. Like its predecessor, it takes over several of the calculations formerly performed by the computer's CPU, letting the machine focus more on game speed.

At the same time, using nVidia's just-released CineFx architecture, the chip can render graphics that are superior to the "Toy Story" movies, moving closer to those in the critically-panned, but technically praised film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within".

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"We've been talking to companies like Electronic Arts (ERTS: Research, Estimates), who have the "Madden" football games," said Rehbock. "EA has been at the forefront of making a simulation football game that's as realistic as possible. Now, you'll be able to have detail like razor stubble and sweat -- things that will make it look even more realistic."

The GeForce FX represents the largest financial investment in any chip nVidia (NVDA: Research, Estimates) has released. It's also the first chip to combine the efforts of nVidia and former employees of 3dfx. (3dfx was once the king of the graphics hill, but was surpassed -- and eventually bought -- by nVidia.)

"The engineering teams sat down and did side-by-side comparisons of the best of what we had and the best of what they had and rolled it all into one killer chip," said Rehbock.

Light reflections will appear more realistic.

But the chip faces strong competition from ATI's Radeon 9700. Because the GeForce FX was delayed by several months, the ATI (ATYT: Research, Estimates) chip (introduced in July) stole the spotlight. Cards using the Radeon 9700 hit store shelves in August. Analysts, in turn, lowered their recommendations on nVidia and the stock slipped.

When cards using the GeForce FX chip do become available at retail, they will likely cost in the $300 to $400 range. That's a typical price -- and it's usually only hardcore gaming enthusiasts who are willing to spend that amount. nVidia is hoping to capture a bigger percentage of the casual gaming market, though, by rolling out slightly less powerful mass market cards (which generally sell for less than $150) sooner than usual.  Top of page

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