by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Metabyte is a software company best known for their software driver implementation. They seem able to work magic with resolutions, speed, and stability - good words in the 3d accelerator business!
In fact these guys are the only ones delivering 1024x1024 resolution on a Voodoo2 board, but they do more magic than that. They also unlock resolution limitations on popular games (their Re2Flex technology). Rumor has it that they are working on unlocking Total Air War at present.
If that weren't enough, Metabyte has designed their driver to unlock the SLI capabilities of ANY other Voodoo2 board. Yes, you heard that right. You can add a Metabyte Wicked3d-2 ($149) to any other V2 configuration and get full Scan Line Interleave. And Metabyte also supports something they call WickedVision, a stereo imaging system that will be supported in F4, Janes F15, Longbow II, WW2 Fighters and others.
Some time back Metabyte garnered attention with Winbench 98 numbers higher than other mainline Voodoo 2 board makers like Diamond. Metabyte uses a proprietary Transformation & Lighting Engine which can generate up to a 40% increase in performance. However, the improvement was theoretical because no published game makes use of the necessary transforms.
But according to Metabyte engineers we may soon see performance of 12-15% beyond other V2 makers under DX6, It seems that the software is catching up to the Metabyte drivers. Since dynamic lighting and reflection effects are becoming more common and more sophisticated, a driver improvement in a simulation like Falcon 4 or MiG Alley, where cockpit reflections and lighting effects are common, will be significant.
In the meantime, Metabyte's software expertise has resulted in the kind of features and flexibility usually reserved for high end hardware makers like Canopus. For example, you can set your choice of refresh rates and resolution modes for gaming.
Metabyte have also just released a Glide Switch utility to allow users to mount both Banshee and V2 boards in a single system and choose which board will run. Their most recent driver revision, dated Friday, October 16th (v.1.30) for the Wicked3d Vengeance board, contains this new ability.
A few weeks ago Metabyte sent me a pair of H3D LCD glasses. Since they are pushing this technology beyond past limitations they aren't waiting for native support for stereoscopic imaging. Instead they have been working with H3D Entertainment to support a variety of APIs (D3D, Glide and Open GL) at the driver level. This means you won't have to wait for Microprose, for example, to release a patch for M1 Tank Platoon II; Metabyte has taken care of this all by itself.
The overall effect of WickedVision is impressive, and quite a bit beyond what we saw last year with Simuleyes. The WickedVision software allows adjustment of a variety of parameters including stereo separation to get the performance that is just right for you. Here is part of Wicked3d's FAQ:
Previous implementations of stereovision had certain problems and limitations, all of which detract from the appeal of this technology. The glasses themselves were fairly low quality producing ghosting effects (this is when the blocking of the eye is not complete and you do see a little of the wrong image). They all tend to be geeky looking in an attempt to make them appear to be full head mounted displays, which they are not.
Other limitations like only supporting low resolution and/or low refresh rate also detracted from the value. It is also possible to create a bad implementation of stereovision in software. Any one of these alone and especially in combination can produce eye strain, headaches or at best a disappointing stereovision experience. Lastly, very few games supported stereovision and usually not the most popular ones.
However, Metabyte aims to change this! Overall, image quality with H3d is solid and flicker is much reduced over previous implementations. It seems that certain graphical problems can also be worked out at driver level, since Metabyte has also all but eliminated distortions typical with text and HUD data.
What sims support WickedVision? There are different levels of support, but here is a current list:
Installation of the Vengeance went smoothly, even over my previous V2 drivers. I didn't check the manual, although there is one supplied. Neither was there any need to uninstall my STBV4400. Windows booted in standard VGA mode and correctly identified the new hardware and I popped in the CD.
I then went into Re2Flex and adjusted the refresh to 100 Hz at 1024x768 and 16 bit color. The surprise came when loading up the Falcon 4 alpha, which wouldn't run under the Guillemot Phoenix (a driver problem). F4 loaded and I was in the air!
I was excited, because I was finally going to get a solid comparison of frame rate to my STBV4000 AGP (TNT) on one system. Frame rate at 1024x768 was excellent. When I cranked the resolution to 1152x864 frame rate only dropped by about 10%.
Even more impressive, image quality was up over 3dfx. Under D3d on the Vengeance board I could tell no difference to the image on my TNT board.
I quickly swapped my TNT back into place for a comparison. Wow! The Wicked3d Vengeance was actually only about 12% slower than the TNT! Drivers for the TNT are much further along, so we aren't likely to see more speed gains on TNT based boards.
Moving along, I loaded up Total Air War under Direct3d. Incredibly, Total Air War has evolved far past the graphics support in F22: ADF. TAW runs almost as quickly under D3d as under Glide and looks just as good. No longer do gamers have to limit themselves to 3dfx Glide API for spectacular graphics.
If Metabyte can get the 12-15% they claim, this board will equal the TNT! Since there aren't the resolution limits of V2, this board has easily just become the new entry level high end 3d accelerator, a single board 2d/D3d and Glide solution with excellent speed! The only disclaimer necessary is that although this board resides in an AGP slot it lacks full AGP features. However, it does free up your PCI slots and for the price this is one impressive piece of hardware.
In my follow up next week, I'll talk about M1TP 2 with force feedback and WickedVision, as well as test NFS III and WW2 Fighters with force feedback and WickedVision. I'll also run up a TOO WICKED configuration and check out the latest V2 SLI performance.
In the meantime, a solid product deserves reward. We award the Wicked3d Vengeance our Top Pick for overall excellence!
The new MSRP for the Wicked3d Vengeance is $129.
© 1997 - 2000 COMBATSIM.COM, Inc. All Rights Reserved. .
Last Updated October 19th, 1998