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Feature-stuffed Catalyst Omega reinvents AMD's approach to graphics drivers

Brad Chacos | Dec. 10, 2014
Let's be honest: Most of us don't update our graphics drivers religiously.

Contour Removal more efficiently removes those blocky little compression artifacts so common in compressed videos. Contour removal is supported on 25W or higher APUs and R7- or R9-series Radon graphics cards only (but not on the Radeon R9 280 or 280X).

1080P Detail Enhancement hits a similar note, improving the clarity and sharpness of compressed, low-resolution video when you're playing it at 1080p resolution. This technology's supported on AMD 7x00 A-Series APUs and only the Radeon R9 285 graphics card, which is powered by AMD's new Tonga GPU. Since the R9 285's GPU is so fresh, presumably this feature will be supported in wider fashion whenever AMD's next-gen R9 300-series graphics cards appear.

FullHD to UltraHD Video performs the same action but for beefier hardware, by using processing trickery to improve the clarity of 1080 video when it's blown up on a 4K display. To use it you'll need a AMD 7x00 A-Series APU, any R-series Radeon GPU of R7 260 or higher, and — of course — a 4K monitor. (It seems a bit odd that this is supported by the R9 280 and 280X but not Radeon 7000-series cards.)

Finally, Fluid Motion Video "uses GPU compute to interpolate inferred frames with real frames," according to AMD, making playback smoother. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to test the tech because it's available only in insanely specific scenarios.

Beyond requiring an 35W or higher AMD 7x00 A-Series APU or a Radeon R7 260 or higher R-series graphics card (again, sans the 280X and 280) on the hardware front, Fluid Motion Video works only when you're watching a Blu-ray disc with Cyberlink PowerDVD 14. And even then, you have to enable it manually in the TrueTheater/Hardware Decoding submenu, which is hidden in the Video, Audio, and Subtitles submenu of PowerDVD's Player Settings options while you're watching a Blu-ray. Whew, that's a lot of caveats.

Quality assurance improvements

I started this article with a call for honesty, and if we're being honest, AMD's drivers have long had a reputation — fair or not — of being not quite as stable as Nvidia's. With Catalyst Omega, AMD tackled the issue head-on, a fact that Hallock stressed repeatedly.

Compared to previous drivers, AMD performed 65 percent more automated QA testing on Catalyst Omega. Beyond letting machines do their thing, AMD also engaged in rigorous internal "dogfooding" of the driver, performing 12 percent more manual testing on Catalyst Omega, across 10 percent more system configurations and 10 percent more display types. All told, Hallock says the team engaged in hundreds of thousands of tests, which found — and fixed — several hundred issues before Catalyst Omega's release.

That's all well and good, but AMD still has a way to go before it wins over skeptical gamers. To that end, AMD's been actively asking for quality feedback from its users. Catalyst Omega fixes the ten most devastating driver bugs mentioned by those users, which you can see below. The company's maintaining a dedicated bug report page and plans to focus on squashing the top community-reported bugs going forward.

 

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