Last October, we took the stage in Hawaii to unveil the AMD Radeon™ R9 and R7 Series GPUs, announcing that select models supported an exciting new hardware feature: AMD TrueAudio technology. AMD TrueAudio is an AMD-exclusive technology that empowers game developers to create truly expansive and realistic audio environments. We are very excited to announce that many of you will be able to experience this incredible audio technology for yourself in today’s patch for Thief™! In addition, AMD Catalyst™ 14.3 Beta also adds driver support for the newly-added Mantle rendering engine in Thief.

 

Let’s take a look at both technologies to see how the AMD Catalyst 14.3 Beta driver makes the Thief experience even better for you!

 

A BRIEF PRIMER ON AMD TRUEAUDIO TECHNOLOGY

AMD TrueAudio technology is a hardware-level feature found on the AMD Radeon™ R9 290X, R9 290, R7 260X and R7 260 graphics cards. A small block of audio processing hardware is integrated directly into the graphics chips in these products. That audio processing hardware is called a “Digital Signal Processor,” or DSP.

A DSP is specialized silicon dedicated to the task of processing—you guessed it—digital signals. Example applications for a DSP include: audio compression, audio filtering, speech processing and recognition, simulating audio environments, creating 3D sound fields and more.

 

DSPs are fully programmable, which allows developers to creatively harness that hardware in ways limited only by their imagination and skill. We are striving with AMD TrueAudio to give game developers a blank canvas for new and never-before-heard audio environments and techniques. Fully programmable hardware was inspired by another pivotal moment in our history, when we helped transition the industry to programmable graphics chips in the mid-2000s—game art has been breathtakingly diverse ever since!

 

To enable this rich climate of imagination, we turned to Cadence IP and their portfolio of Tensilica Xtensa series DSPs. We licensed their technology to equip each AMD TrueAudio-capable graphics card with a trio of Xtensa HiFi EP (PDF) cores. Together, these three DSPs allow game developers to fully offload their game audio environment from the processor to our GPU.

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Full offloading of a game’s audio engine is a key benefit of AMD TrueAudio technology. The hardware horsepower we provide to audio processing with the integrated DSPs is tremendous compared to the horsepower typically given to processor-based audio engines. In other words, audio engineers have historically received a very small portion of a processor’s overall performance to run their audio engines—one can only imagine how much this has stifled game audio innovation over the years! While it’s difficult to predict all the creative ways developers will take advantage of this new and powerful hardware, a wise man once said: “if you build it, they will come.”

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On a final note, we wanted to impress that AMD TrueAudio technology is compatible with any audio hardware you already own. AMD TrueAudio enters the audio chain at the application level, long before sound ever reaches your audio chip or audio endpoint (e.g. headphones). Whether you have integrated audio on the motherboard, a discrete sound card, or a standalone USB headset, AMD TrueAudio is already part and parcel of the audio stream that’s being fed to these devices by the game’s audio engine. And because it operates at the application level, AMD TrueAudio is fully aware of the game’s positional and environmental data. AMD TrueAudio technology is intrinsically able to provide audio data that fully reflects the game’s goings on.

 

For even more technical information on AMD TrueAudio technology, we encourage you to visit this MaximumPC interview with Carl Wakeland, the brains behind AMD TrueAudio technology at AMD.

 

AMD TRUEAUDIO IN THIEF

With respect to Thief, AMD TrueAudio is utilized to calculate an effect called “convolution reverb.” Convolution reverb is a technique that mathematically simulates the echoes (i.e. reverberation) of a real-life location. This effect is accomplished by recording an “impulse response,” which is a snapshot of the echo characteristics of a real-world location. That impulse response is fed back into software that can recreate that behavior in a PC game.

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Thief uses this technique to make buildings, cathedrals, alleyways and other in-game venues sound quite like they would in real life! In an environment where there are adjacent areas with different echo characteristics and impulse response (example: a cathedral adjacent to a cave and an open space), multiple convolution reverbs must be processed in parallel to create the most realistic sound environment. AMD worked closely with Eidos to process up to four convolution reverbs simultaneously with AMD TrueAudio technology, and you should try mission seven to get the best experience!

 

AMD TRUEAUDIO ELSEWHERE

In addition to Thief, today we will also release an AMD TrueAudio-enabled demo prepared by GenAudio and FMOD for the Occulus Rift. If you have one in your home, now would be a great time to break it out. If not, you can still experience the demo for yourself, but the graphics will be displayed as a stereo pair.

 

In this demo, called Tuscanny, AMD TrueAudio is utilized to calculate the spatialization of an audio environment. Spatialization is a technique that permits the audio engine to create a fully 3D soundfield on a stereo headset. This effect is powered by AstoundSound 3D RTI plugin by GenAudio, and it includes support for elevation, distance and positioning. Please watch this page for the download to become available.

 

A BRIEF PRIMER ON MANTLE

Mantle has been many years in the making by AMD, but we were not alone in this effort! Mantle was also directly shaped by the input we received from the greater game development community that has long sought a low-level graphics API for PCs.  We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with developers like Eidos Montreal to create Mantle in the image of their needs: a streamlined, robust, efficient API for modern graphics work. In fact, Mantle is the very first lower level API designed with input from game developers for their modern craft!

 

At the simplest level, Mantle is an Application Programming Interface (API), or a language that game developers can use to write code that creates the beautiful graphics on your screen. In its current iteration, the Mantle API uniquely leverages the hardware in the Graphics Core Next architecture (GCN) of modern AMD Radeon™ GPUs for peak performance.

 

More broadly, Mantle is functionally similar to DirectX® and OpenGL, but Mantle is different in that it was purpose-built as a lower level API. By “lower level,” it’s meant that the language of Mantle more closely matches the way modern graphics architectures (like AMD’s own GCN) are designed to execute code. The primary benefit of a lower level API is a reduction in software bottlenecks, such as the time a GPU and CPU must spend translating/understanding/reorganizing code on-the-fly before it can be executed and presented to the user as graphics. Mantle comes in contrast to the “high level API,” which offers broader compatibility with multiple GPU architectures, but does so at the expense of lower performance and efficiency.

 

For more information on the design goals of Mantle, we encourage you to visit the “Four Core Principles of Mantle” blog.

 

MANTLE GRAPHICS API IN THIEF

In Thief, Mantle is utilized to improve the graphics performance of many common PC configurations at a resolution of 1080p. Let’s look at the performance impact Mantle is making for systems like these.

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First up, an entry-level gaming system based on the CPU in the new AMD A10-7700K APU (the on die GPU is disabled) and an AMD Radeon™ R7 260X graphics card. This is a sensible CPU/GPU combination that sees up to 23% more performance when Mantle is enabled in Thief. Even more importantly for these gamers, the “High Quality” graphics preset offers playable framerates with Mantle enabled! The data is clear: users with this class of system would have to opt for lower image quality if it weren’t for Mantle’s performance improvements.

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Next we’ll look at a mid/high-end gaming system based on the AMD FX-8350 and an AMD Radeon™ R9 280X graphics card. These users are already playing on the game’s highest graphics settings, but with Mantle they can do that with up to 19% higher framerates.

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We even make the experience better for customers with an AMD Radeon-based Intel system. Below is another high-end gaming system based on the Intel Core i5-4670K and the AMD Radeon™ R9 290X Graphics. Gamers with a configuration like this could see up to 17% additional performance at 1080p!

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As you can see, Mantle is making a substantial difference for a huge cross-section of the buying public that plays their games at 1080p with very affordable CPU/GPU combinations. In some cases, Mantle is even granting gamers access to previously-unplayable graphics quality! We’re very pleased that our new, young graphics API is already having such a big effect for so many people.

 

RESOURCES FOR YOU

 

Robert Hallock is PR Manager for Gaming & Desktop Graphics at AMD.  His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only.  Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.


Correction Notice: The original edition of this blog reported that AMD TrueAudio technology utilized a HiFi 2 core in conjunction with three HiFi EP cores. The correct total is three HiFi EP cores and no HiFi 2 cores.