NEW YORK (CNNfn) - 3Dfx Interactive, whose computer chips ushered in the era of three-dimensional gaming for home-computer users, surprised onlookers Monday by unveiling its next generation of accelerators earlier than expected.
Voodoo3 will be the successor to the nine-month-old Voodoo2 chip, which is the industry's best-selling high-end graphics accelerator. The company says Voodoo3 will be more than twice as powerful as two boards using the Voodoo2 chip. The Voodoo2 boards can be paired to improve performance.
Scheduled to be on store shelves by the second quarter of 1999, the Voodoo3 family will initially consist of two chips: the Voodoo 2000, a stand alone 2D/3D board for mainstream users and Voodoo3 3000, a faster add-on board for so-called "hard core" gamers.
"3D is one of the fastest growing segments in computing and Voodoo3's ... performance will enable our enthusiast gamers as well as mainstream consumers to experience the next generation of highly complex 3D interactive entertainment," said Greg Ballard, president and chief executive officer of 3Dfx.
PC users will not have to buy new versions of their software with Voodoo3. Existing titles will be compatible with the new chips.
Tomb Raider III will support Voodoo3
The new family of chips are an enhancement of 3Dfx's Banshee line, which fuses 3D and 2D technologies. Voodoo3 is also designed to appeal to PC users who are looking to do more than play games. Voodoo3 will be the first graphics chip to support high-definition television sets.
Retail pricing for graphics cards using the new technology will vary, since 3Dfx chips are bought by other developers, such as Diamond Multimedia and Creative Technologies, and incorporated into their products.
3Dfx (TDFX) has stepped to the forefront of the graphics accelerator field and is particularly popular with computer gaming enthusiasts. Its Voodoo Graphics products have been lauded by consumers and industry insiders for their performance and ability to run affordably on PCs.
Developers and publishers have aligned themselves with the company, as well. This fall and winter, more than 100 games utilizing the Voodoo2 technology are scheduled to hit store shelves, including Eidos' Tomb Raider III and Activision's remake of the arcade classic Asteroids. Hundreds of others are currently on the market.
The company is not alone in its field, though. Competing 3D chips from companies such as Matrox and nVIDIA have challenged 3Dfx's reign. The company has fought back aggressively, filing a patent infringement suit against nVIDIA in September, claiming the company used 3Dfx technology in its Riva TNT product.
nVIDIA has denied the charges.
While home users have generally been impressed with the Voodoo2, the chief complaint has been the chip's system requirements. Though low- and mid-range PC owners do see improved graphics, it takes a high-end computer to really see the Voodoo2 shine. That's expected to hold true for the Voodoo3, as well.
The complaints are subsiding, however, as sub-$1,000 PCs come equipped with faster processors and Voodoo2 prices continue to tumble. Diamond (DIMD), Creative (CREAF) and other companies which use the chip on their graphics cards, have cut prices regularly since the Voodoo2 hit the street. Cards that once sold for $300 now cost closer to $100.
Shares of 3Dfx were higher in early trading on Wall Street today, up 5/8 at 15 3/8.
-- by staff writer Chris Morris