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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Video Cards | 3D Video Acceleration ]

3D Software Support

In order to benefit from 3D acceleration features, it is necessary for software to know about them and support them. Unfortunately, with 3D being a new field, a whole new crop of different and incompatible cards has hit the market. Support for a particular card is required from a program if it is to take advantage of the 3D card's features. Otherwise, the program will not benefit much (or at all) from the 3D hardware.

Most of the specific support for 3D hardware is from games. This comes usually in the form of special versions that have been tailored to different video cards. In addition to a regular version of a popular game, a version may be created by a company to support a particular 3D chipset. This version will usually either have much superior graphics, faster performance, or both. However, it won't work with a different type of 3D card.

Fortunately, new standard libraries are being developed to tackle this problem. Much the way regular video drivers abstract away the details of the hardware so that software doesn't have to worry about which particular card is being used, driver libraries like Direct3D and OpenGL are designed to allow software to be written generically without tweaking it to each 3D chipset on the market.

Games that are designed to use these libraries can avoid some the need for customization. However, these systems are still in their early stages and have their own problems, including performance concerns--the software doesn't run as fast as it would if the hardware were programmed directly, which is the tradeoff in getting the universality of the library. In time, when the market "settles down", there will hopefully be a standard established to make using 3D a bit simpler.

Next: Full-Motion Video

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