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DirectX Future Outlined

What will consumers think about Microsoft's new versions of DirectX technology? Actually, Microsoft hopes they won't think about it at all. DirectX 7 is scheduled for release later this fall, while DirectX 8 is due out next year. Both promise to significantly improve the look and sound of 3-D games. However, Microsoft officials would like retail customers to equate their refined gaming experiences with a more robust Windows operating system and the better design skills of game developers rather than focus on the technology of DirectX.

In fact, making DirectX a streamlined part of the game install is as much a goal for developers as building in the latest technology improvements, said Kevin Bachus, a Microsoft product manager for DirectX. Indeed, Bachus said the goal for DirectX is for it to be transparent to consumers. "When DirectX works it should be invisible," said Bachus. "It should not be something consumers care about or know about."

Bachus said Microsoft is working simultaneously on the two new versions of DirectX. Version 7 will contain enhancements to 3-D sound and graphics along with overall speed improvements. It is scheduled to be available in time for a new crop of graphics chips that will hit the market this fall.

DirectX 8 is intended to provide a leap forward in the gaming experience. Once DirectX 7 is released, the DirectX team will focus exclusively on version 8, which Bachus noted will show off some of the first fruits of a technology agreement between Silicon Graphics and Microsoft.

But first, DirectX 7. Bachus said the portions of this version will be released, along with updates from DirectX 6.1, in the Microsoft Windows 98 Revision 2. (New versions of DirectX are also distributed by game developers on CD-ROMs and can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site at www.microsoft.com.)

Speed is the name of the game with DirectX 7, Bachus said. Microsoft has optimized the new version to run about 20 percent faster, and even games developed for DirectX 6 will perform better with the new runtime, he added. To improve the realism of 3-D graphics, DirectX 7 will add support for hardware-assisted transformations. The result will be faster

3-D operations, Bachus said.
3-D images will get a boost through DirectX 7 support for projected textures, an effect that fabricates the look of reflections in a 3-D world,for example, a mirror reflection or light passing through a stained glass window.

DirectX 7 also will include enhanced audio features. Bachus said Microsoft will provide hardware acceleration support of direct music. Processing direct music on the sound card will improve overall game performance, he added. As for DirectX 8, Bachus said to expect vast improvements in visual quality. For one, the Microsoft development team will add support for scene graphs, a way to describe 3-D scenes as objects instead of triangles. This feature will allow developers to create complex 3-D environments that are more flexible and easier to program.

In addition to improvements in graphics quality, the DirectX team also will work to further develop the sound quality of games. The group plans to support environmental modeling for audio, which provides more realistic reproductions of sounds in various settings. Microsoft also will work to enable multichannel audio and AC-3 (Dolby Digital) in this version. "Our competition is real life," Bachus said. "Anything that approaches the quality around you is what we will be trying to enable."

To make games easier to install and use, Microsoft expects to add a new technology called Game Manager in the next version of Windows. Game Manager essentially would provide the kind of front end consumers now experience with a video game system. As demonstrated at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Game Manager automatically takes over when a new game is inserted into a CD-ROM drive. The manager installs the game and all necessary components and then gives the user a chance to set up special profiles for gaming devices used with that game. This means there's no need to reset the profiles every time the game is started on the computer. The goal, Bachus said, is to simplify the game start-up experience and remove confusing choices for consumers.

 

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