FPS R.I.P.?

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For years, we have measured video cards by how many frames per second they could put out in various games.

It was a good measurement. You want to play a game, not Keystone Kops, especially when the cops are trying to blow you away. No one wants to get killed because of a slow or missed frame.

It’s simple. It’s easily quantifiable. You can look at two numbers and say one video card is better than another.

However, it seems to me we are approaching the point of uselessness when it comes to FPS.

I’m not saying we’re there yet, or will be tomorrow. I realize that features like FSAA increase quality at the cost of frame rate, which could keep FPS as a measurement in business for a while.

At some point in time, though, it’s going to get ridiculous.

Twenty years from now, will we be boasting, “My video card does 5000 fps?”

There comes a point where quantity becomes useless. Measuring quantity is good when you don’t have enough. Once you do, though, then you should start working on other things, like quality.

There was a country that focussed solely on quantity rather than quality. It was called the Soviet Union. Towards the end, the Soviet Union made a lot more steel and lots of other things than America or Japan; after decades of effort, it finally “beat” them.

Did the Soviet Union win the war? No. America and Japan made enough steel, then moved on to making other things. Even things that didn’t need steel. Steel is very good for certain things, but no one wants a 10-pound portable CD player.

There’s no point making more of something when more becomes useless.

At some point, we’ll reach that stage with video cards, where more FPS becomes visually undetectable.

Then what?

All the other measurements we have measure quantity. We don’t even have another measurement that can measure quality.

People say the Matrox cards have better “image quality.” How so? No measurement, people just say it looks better. I’m not saying this isn’t so, but looking at something is pretty subjective.

People would much rather measure quantity rather than quality because it’s a lot easier. It’s very easy to say 12 cans of paint are more than 10 cans. However, if the 12 cans of paint are lousy paint, and the 10 are very good, which is “better?”

Fortunately, with video cards, there is a relatively simple way to measure quality: accuracy. How perfectly does the video card translate its instructions into output. Does it get the color right? Does it put the pixel in the right place? Can it handle every pixel correctly? Can it do all this fast enough for human perception?

That’s a good deal harder than FPS, and involves a little more calculation, but it’s doable. Some of the measuring tests for monitors point the way to this kind of measurement, but we will need more.

This isn’t meant to provide an answer, just to ask a question that some software developer out there might want to answer.

Email Ed


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