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PS3 and it's hardware scaler

post #1 of 280
Thread Starter 
Well... the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter.

Quote:


Introduction

Since its launch last November, Sony's latest gaming platform has given early adopters trouble when attempting to play certain titles in 1080i/p. The console did not automatically upscale its video output to desired resolutions; it was up to either the game software to support these resolutions natively or the internal scalers of users' HDTVs. This forced many people, developers and owners alike, to question the very existence of scaling hardware in the PlayStation 3.
Worse, it created a sour taste in the mouths of owners of older CRT-based HDTV sets, many of which are not capable of accepting a 720p signal at all, and thus only capable of displaying 480i/p and 1080i video signals. If they wanted to run their games in HD resolution, the solution for these disgruntled owners until now was to hope that developers would release their games with 1080i/p support --not a walk in the park for the developer-- or, simply, to buy a new HDTV. As one can imagine, the latter was not the most well-received solution in the history of CE devices.
The key words in that last paragraph would be until now, because with the latest PlayStation 3 software development kit (SDK) update, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) has finally exposed part of the built-in hardware scaler to developers.
Will this mean that most, if not all, future games will support output at 1080p/i resolutions? Moreover --and this is the question that owners of 1080i-only CRT HDTVs crave to see answered--does this mean that current PS3 games may eventually support the native HD resolution of their televisions? Well, the answer requires some good old-fashioned explanation, so let's start already!

The issue and its solution until now

For openers, let's talk about the way the PlayStation 3 outputs modern videogames. First, the console renders a frame buffer - called the back buffer - in which the drawing passes are executed. Following that, a second frame buffer is rendered, the front buffer. The front buffer is basically the final result of all the rendering operations that took place in the back buffer, and thus it is the picture that one sees on their screen. The front buffer is the optimal point in the display process where scaling solutions can operate.
Before the latest SDK update, developers working on PS3 wishing to support 1080p/i in their 720p-native games had very few options available to them. For 1080i, a theoretical possibility (since it's not supported on PS3) would be to do field rendering -- a technique that consists of software scaling the 1280x720 backbuffer into a 1920x540 frontbuffer that will successively render odd and even interlaced lines. The problems with this technique are that it can only output in 1080 interlaced (not progressive), that it has image quality issues, and even more limiting, that it requires the game renderer to refresh at 60Hz (60 frame per seconds) at all times. If the renderer misses a single frame, the output image quality will be terrible. Clearly, field rendering is not an optimal solution for the video output issues of the PlayStation 3.
The only real option available to developers, though, was to upscale the front buffer in software to 1920x1080. This avoids the image quality issues associated with field rendering, and it is also capable of outputting 1080p as well as 1080i signals. Additionally, it is perfectly compatible with games that render at 30Hz, or with unstable framerates (yeah, we know that there's a few of those out there.)
So, you may say, why don't developers just upscale the front buffer to 1080p in software and be done with it? As simple as this sounds, the techniques described above are not free. They have a price in both computational resources and RAM. The computational issue--in the form of doubled fillrate cost--is a problem on its own, since fillrate is not one of RSX's fortes. But it's not as stressful as it sounds, since a front buffer is being rendered in a single pass, unlike the back buffer, which requires numerous passes and is therefore more sensitive to resolution increases. The real deal breaker in this scenario is the larger footprint in RAM occupied by these upscaled buffers. It's a price that not all development houses can pay if they plan on their game fitting into the PlayStation 3's memory.
To illustrate how serious the memory problem would be, let's look at the increased requirements that a software upscaler would impose. There are three main resolutions that comprise the common HDTV standards: 720p (1280x720 progressive), 1080i (1920x1080 interlaced) and 1080p (1920x1080 progressive). In order to output at 720p, a PlayStation game needs to render a 1280x720 front buffer; in the case of 1080i/p, it needs a 1920x1080 pixel front buffer. As you can see in the graph below, these different buffers have very different sizes.

As the above graph illustrates, a 1920x1080 front buffer is twice the size of a 1280x720 buffer. With the difference in megabytes measured in the single digits, you could argue that in the grand scheme of things, the difference is not that large. But in reality, when dealing with any closed system, game developers are already trying to shoehorn their games into the available RAM. The PlayStation 3 is no exception, and many developers simply cannot afford to spend more RAM on an upscaled front buffer... and as the games already on the market plainly show, many of them didn't.
In the best case scenario, a developer would wait for RSX to "vblank" (vertical blank--in other words, be left with only the front buffer loaded in memory) and then use RSX to upscale. Developers that seek to have RSX rendering the next frame in the back buffer as soon as possible have to store their front buffer as a 720p image and then upscale it when the GPU is available. In this case, at a single point in time, a 720p back buffer, a 720p front buffer, and a upscaled 1080p frame buffer are all resident in the PlayStation 3 video memory.
Fast forward to the day when a new SDK update was made available, and with it comes a new solution for developers.

The latest SDK: A scaler breaks its chains and is now running free. Well, almost.

And so we arrive at last to the most recent development, the late January PlayStation 3 SDK update. Amongst the newer versions of the various tools included in the SDK lies a new function: the ability for developers to use some of the functionality of the fabled hardware scaler, a scaler many previously doubted existed at all. Interestingly enough, "some" is the key word when describing the unlocked functionality; SCEI only gave access to hardware accelerated horizontal scaling. Horizontal scaling on its own cannot upscale a 720p image into 1080p/i --this would require both horizontal and vertical scaling. Hence, the newly exposed scaler functionality is not enabled in the PS3's user interface directly, but instead will still require developer support to work.

At the time of publication, the reasons why SCEI didn't give developers access to both horizontal and vertical scaling are still unknown, as are the reasons they didn't grant developers access to horizontal scaling until now. The video scaler itself remains shrouded in mystery, as strange as it may seem, but at least now we can say with confidence that it does indeed exist. There are multiple reasons for this continuing secrecy, and insiders are reluctant to discuss them even off the record, nevermind for publication. Nonetheless, the reasons behind SCEI's choices are not our subject today. While a great deal could (and will) be said about the nature of this scaler in the future, today's article will focus on the recently exposed functionality; the details of its hardware and the way that it is integrated into the PlayStation 3's architecture will be reserved for a later article.
Now, let's describe exactly how this added capability works. How can a developer implement a 1080p/i output mode in their 720p-native game for a low cost with this partial scaling? Simply, the developer needs to support one of the new resolutions that SCEI has added to the PlayStation 3's rendering palette. Key among these is new support for a resolution of 960x1080. This results in a framebuffer with relatively few more pixels compared to the more standard 720p, and as a result enjoys a computational cost (fillrate cost) comparable to the one associated with 720p framebuffers to begin with (921,600 pixels for 1280x720 compared to 1,036,800 pixels for 960x1080). At the same time, it benefits from eligibility to be horizontally scaled by the resident hardware scaler.
Additional 1080 rendering modes also supported now include 1280x1080 and 1440x1080. These modes, similar to 960x1080, are capable of being upscaled by the hardware into 1080p/i.

As we can see in this graph, the RAM requirements of a single 960x1080 front buffer are extremely close to a 720p front buffer.
It is worth noting that as of today, support for one of these scalable resolutions is not yet a requirement of new game development; that decision is still in the hands of the developers themselves. However, it is already strongly rumoured that such support will become mandatory through future revisions of the PS3 technical requirements checklist (TRC).
Conclusion

In conclusion, the foretold yet hitherto unseen PlayStation 3 hardware scaler has made its entry onto the development scene with this SDK update. Its appearance should bring hope into the hearts of 1080i-only HDTV owners that all future games may support their television sets natively. They may also look forward to seeing patches to some of the currently released 720p-only games, should developers have the time and inclination to revisit their old code base and hack a new 960x1080 rendering mode into it.
As a postscript, we'd like to speculate about another point of debate concerning the PS3 video output capabilities --its lack of VGA resolution support, which itself could also be affected by this latest horizontal revolution. As one would deduce after reading this article, just as with HDTV resolutions, a hypothetical VGA resolution support - notably for 16:10 screens - would entail developer input as well. This would of course require a little more development work for said developers, and additional configurations to run rendering tests on, but the computational and memory costs associated should no longer hinder support of these resolutions in any meaningful way.
Thanks

All the members of the game development community who are always helpful and friendly when I come around bothering them with my pesky questions. Carl and Geo for their tremendous editing help. Stefan, Arun and the B3D Crew. Double thanks to Carl for the late night work I forced on him.
Maison du Café's coffee, for keeping me awake long enough to fini

Link
post #2 of 280
Fascinating, thanks. Still no answer to the $64,000 question though: why all the secrecy and mystery surrounding the scaler?
post #3 of 280
If they want my $59 for Motorstorm US, they'll get this ready before it's release. So, far PS3 is just a BD player and GTHD player for me.
post #4 of 280
Maybe part of the reason Motorstorm keeps getting delayed. Let's hope.
post #5 of 280
I guess darknight was correct, there is indeed a hardware scaler...
post #6 of 280
Quote:


At the time of publication, the reasons why SCEI didn't give developers access to both horizontal and vertical scaling are still unknown, as are the reasons they didn't grant developers access to horizontal scaling until now. The video scaler itself remains shrouded in mystery, as strange as it may seem, but at least now we can say with confidence that it does indeed exist. There are multiple reasons for this continuing secrecy, and insiders are reluctant to discuss them even off the record, nevermind for publication. Nonetheless, the reasons behind SCEI's choices are not our subject today.

In my experience it usually comes down to money and image in some way or another.

At least there's some hope and I'm interested to see what becomes of this.
post #7 of 280
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Slacker George View Post

Maybe part of the reason Motorstorm keeps getting delayed. Let's hope.

Interesting. With so much hype surrounding this game, you might be onto something.
post #8 of 280
Very interesting. I hope the people who were talking all that trash before, like the taste of crow.
post #9 of 280
a support for 16:10 ratio would nice.
post #10 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by Slacker George View Post

Fascinating, thanks. Still no answer to the $64,000 question though: why all the secrecy and mystery surrounding the scaler?

That's what I would like to know. I already knew at least some scaling was going on because blu-ray movies could play at 480p in addition to 1080p/i.
post #11 of 280
It's nice to see that the articles and posts I was believing from the get-go, that there WAS a scaler, but they had locked it out from developers at the time was true.

They are obviously getting their act together. The 1.5 update has been the best by far. The PS2/PS1 game quality improvement was HUGE.
post #12 of 280
It really makes me wonder though...about the secrecy. Why keep it all from the developers. I wonder if the Hardware in the PS3 is ready for the next step in resolutions....1480p....(pipe dream..maybe) Stiring the pot...yeah. a lil bit..LOL
post #13 of 280
so what, 2 months after its release, Sony managed to solve 2 "major" PS3 problems? Support for scaling, and almost 100% support for PS2 games?

yikes... what will happen in next 2 months? PS3 makes me an breakfast in the morning, and does loundry for the significant other?

:-)
post #14 of 280
Still no big deal to anyone with a modern TV.

Though I am interested in seeing this scaler's performance vs. my TVs.
post #15 of 280
I still believe my original theory. First the people who opened up and examined the PS3 board did not find any such hardware component dedicated to do this.

I suggested that they should use the computational power of PS2's emotion engine for this purpose, a piece of hardware that's sitting and doing nothing while we're playing PS3 games. I bet you this is what they have done.

Otherwise, it doesn't make sense. How can this phantom chip all of sudden show up in the hardware, where it wasn't there before? And why so much secrecy? I bet you they're doing this, or tapping something else in there, and SDK simply gives that function
post #16 of 280
From what I read it was there the whole time, but disabled in that particular version of the chipset.
post #17 of 280
I told you guys there was a hardware scaler in the PS3!

I new it....Sony just need some time to get it working.

The Xbox 360 has some scaling issues but microsoft worked it out.

I think the March update for the PS3 will be good....only 2 months to go till the 23rd of March!!!
post #18 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scotty L View Post

Still no big deal to anyone with a modern TV.

Though I am interested in seeing this scaler's performance vs. my TVs.

screw your condescending attitude towards people who decided that it is worth owning a 2 year old tv that weighs a ton because the PQ and black levels out perform flat panels that cost a grand more.

since when is a 2 year old hdtv not modern?


seperate point:
with all the games getting pushed back to march and beyond, it might folow that developers expected this development and were waiting for it. wait and see, but now more reason to NOT purchase any new title that does not support 1080i/p (if it is easier now then I will not give my money to laziness
post #19 of 280
If this issue affected me I would not take any solace in the article posted. Basically with games needing to add support for the feature and 'missing' vertical scaling it does sound somewhat broken still. I wonder how long until a game is released that uses the new scaling feature.
post #20 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by coneyparleg View Post

screw your condescending attitude towards people who decided that it is worth owning a 2 year old tv that weighs a ton because the PQ and black levels out perform flat panels that cost a grand more.

since when is a 2 year old hdtv not modern?


seperate point:
with all the games getting pushed back to march and beyond, it might folow that developers expected this development and were waiting for it. wait and see, but now more reason to NOT purchase any new title that does not support 1080i/p (if it is easier now then I will not give my money to laziness

I agree with you but you should try and get a TV that supports 1080p thru HDMI and a receiver that supports lossless audio...you are still missing the full potential of the PS3...but hey I still need the audio receiver part...and my TV is only 1080i/720p. I am going to get a 1080p TV by this christmas...at least they are getting real cheap...Hopefully they will be down to around $1000 by this time next year. You can already get a Vizio 47 inch 1080P for $1699 at Costco!
post #21 of 280
Sony is finally getting some good press now...we will have to see how the developers use these new unlocked features.
post #22 of 280
So does that mean that when a game box says 1080p, it could be native 1080p, or scaled, or 960x1080i de-interlaced to 1080p? Just more confusion if you asked me.
post #23 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tripjammer View Post

I agree with you but you should try and get a TV that supports 1080p thru HDMI and a receiver that supports lossless audio...you are still missing the full potential of the PS3...but hey I still need the audio receiver part...and my TV is only 1080i/720p. I am going to get a 1080p TV by this christmas...at least they are getting real cheap...Hopefully they will be down to around $1000 by this time next year. You can already get a Vizio 47 inch 1080P for $1699 at Costco!

I've been looking at the Vizio, seems to get mixed reviews but the price is sweet. I'm planning to move in hte near future so I want to wait until then to invest, and put together a nice home theater room.

I just get annoyed at the attitude that I should toss the crt, its not going anywhere, we still watch SD channels and nothing matches the crt for SD channels.
post #24 of 280
It's good to notice that the heresay can go by the wayside now. There is a scaler. It's now available to be used as it was "opened up" for the developers to use. Gone is the whole "it exists/it doesn't exist" argument. Now games can reach the broader audience.

Although now I'm waiting for the "yeah, so, their scaling implementation sux!" posts...it'll never end...
post #25 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by coneyparleg View Post

screw your condescending attitude towards people who decided that it is worth owning a 2 year old tv that weighs a ton because the PQ and black levels out perform flat panels that cost a grand more.

since when is a 2 year old hdtv not modern?


seperate point:
with all the games getting pushed back to march and beyond, it might folow that developers expected this development and were waiting for it. wait and see, but now more reason to NOT purchase any new title that does not support 1080i/p (if it is easier now then I will not give my money to laziness

Don't mean to be condescending, but if you *really* loved your CRT why not just get an external video scaler?

You got it because it was inexpensive plain & simple. That's fine, but then you also deal with the fact that it may have problems in the future, accepting only 1 HD resolution. My TV came out 2 years ago but I'm not complaining.
post #26 of 280
Do this new 960x1080 target buffer give a good starting point to go up to 1920x1080i/p resolution?

720p game resolution: 1280x720
horz-scalable resolution: 960x1080 (this is a new resolution ps3 sdk provides)
1080p resolution: 1920x1080

They can only scale horizontal pixels for now, no vertical scaling provided. This sure makes game devs life a bit hard and do must change code to support new target rendering. Its not a transparent to existing games.

Instead of going from 1280->1920, they must go 960->1920 scaling. Not an easy to do for existing games and less pixels to start with must affect the image quality in the end. You have optimized your 3d game using 1280x720 buffer and then should use 960x1080 buffer. First question is where do I put leftside and rightside HUDs as image width is less.
post #27 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by dukmahsik View Post

So does that mean that when a game box says 1080p, it could be native 1080p, or scaled, or 960x1080i de-interlaced to 1080p? Just more confusion if you asked me.


I hope they put Full HD 1080p on the game if the game was renedered in 1080p...so we know.
post #28 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by coneyparleg View Post

screw your condescending attitude towards people who decided that it is worth owning a 2 year old tv that weighs a ton because the PQ and black levels out perform flat panels that cost a grand more.

since when is a 2 year old hdtv not modern?


you said it my man, I wouldnt trade my 52" RPTV for anything right now...does it do 720P? NO but it does 1080i in grand fashion and when I say the pic is incredible it is incredible....and as far as them being a ton they might be but many of these flat screen owners have them on BIG STANDS so they really gained what...I dont know about you but I watch my TV from the front so I couldnt tell you what the back or side looks like
post #29 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daekwan View Post

From what I read it was there the whole time, but disabled in that particular version of the chipset.

What do you mean they disabled in that particular version of the chipset? The hardware was purchased standing in line for 24 hours. The brought it into the office, and examined and labeled every single chip. Are you saying that there is a new chipset, and that some may or may not get this function? Or do you mean that the chip was there, but Sony never allowed access to it by omitting it in their SDK?


Regardless if my conspiracy theory is correct or not, I am happy. This is a great news for us all.

To the person who made that irresponsible statement regarding going out and buying a new HDTV w/ 1080P resolution: Scotty L

You need to chill out, and stop acting so selfish. I myself, own a 1080P SXRD XBR2 60" set. It's no doubt that the image quality of PS3 shines through a full blown 1080P sets. But you need to keep in mind that we are only a fraction of the overall TV market, and the rest of not so fortunate (or frugal for that matter), should be able to enjoy their games or any other media in the highest quality possible on their TV sets. This scalar issue impacts everyone, including those of us who own the latest and HDTV sets. I have many DVD collection, not to mention media files that I would like to watch on the PS3, but without the the scaler function, the DVDs and the media files look crappy without scaling. My old modded XBOX with XBMC installed upscales everything up to 1080i, which is the limit on component connection upscales my files and plays my DVDs so much better than the PS3. And this is a shame, when I have a state of the art machine and a TV that is capable of displaying full 1080P.

I can't wait for the next big March update!
post #30 of 280
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scotty L View Post

Don't mean to be condescending, but if you *really* loved your CRT why not just get an external video scaler?

You got it because it was inexpensive plain & simple. That's fine, but then you also deal with the fact that it may have problems in the future, accepting only 1 HD resolution. My TV came out 2 years ago but I'm not complaining.


Dude you are really coming off horribly..

How do you know he got it because it was inexpensive plain & simple?

Who are you to judge people on their purchases when every other device even some cheap dvd players seems to have usable scalers that works just fine.

The guy has a right to be dissapointed and shouldnt have to buy a new tv to have a resolution supported on the TV he already had.

1080i was, is, and still is the primary standard for MOST HD programming.




Get over yourself.. why dont YOU buy him a new tv since a fix to his problem is that easy.
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