Exclusive Interview with AMD’s Robert Hallock – Future Prospects of AMD Explored

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Nov 22, 2014

Robert Hallock answers questions asked by the WCCF community

You might remember the drive we held a few days back to collect questions that you guys want AMD to answer. Well, we took our merry time, but here it is: AMD’s Robert Hallock has replied to all of the questions we sent him, explaining in detail most of the answers. Keep in mind that Robert Hallock had to stay within NDA, so detailed future prospects to some particular questions were not possible. Without any further ado, read on.

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Q #1 : Let’s discuss the progress you’ve made with Mantle. When can we expect it to come out of BETA with a Public SDK release ?

Robert: AMD has made incredible progress with Mantle, most notably in the area of developer adoption. Presently we’re celebrating nearly 100 partners in the SDK beta program! Work is progressing quickly with this level of participation.

Q #2 : How many games currently support Mantle and how many games are in the pipeline that you can tell us about ?

Robert: As I mentioned, there are nearly 100 developers in the pipeline working with Mantle. That represents a number of projects I’m unfortunately unable to disclose, but you can imagine. When it comes to public commitments: Battlefield 4, Thief, Starswarm stress test, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Sniper Elite III, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Steam (shift+tab overlay in Mantle games) and D3DGear (FPS overlay). Upcoming titles include: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield Hardline, Star Citizen and 15+ titles from EA that I can’t share details on just yet.

Q #3 : With Microsoft’s DX12 largely championing the same low-level “close to the metal” principals as Mantle how do you see both APIs coexisting ?

Robert: We have long seen them coexisting as complementary tools. For example, comments from Oxide Games and other knowledgeable game developers indicate that there is an intention or desire to support both. Indeed, their comments reveal advocacy for many vendor-specific APIs as a method to achieve absolute best performance for gamers on a given graphics platform. Clearly there is a developer appetite for a plethora of tools that can all be the “right tool for the right job.”

Here’s where AMD stands: DirectX® 12 is hugely exciting, and we continue to serve in a developmental capacity on the design board. We’re committed to making AMD Radeon graphics the #1 destination for gamers in the DirectX® 12 era, and our GCN Architecture will support the API with a driver upgrade. As for Mantle, we are committed to ongoing support for ISVs at their request. There are nearly 100 developers in our beta program, now. We fully expect those developers to apply their years of learning with Mantle to efforts in other areas, just as AMD is doing with the Khronos group.

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Q #4 : How can developers apply to be entered into the closed BETA, will you consider indie developers ? And do you have plans to bring Mantle to Linux.

Robert: The Mantle developer portal is located here. Our selection criteria are focused on experienced developers with several published titles, and some indie developers would meet that standard. As for Linux, we are conducting an ongoing feasibility study to determine how or if it would be possible. Rest assured that we will update everyone with a mass communication if this story evolves.

Q #5 : What are AMD’s plans for TrueAudio ? Both in terms of increasing adoption and improving on the technology.

Robert: Our plan couldn’t be simpler: MORE GAMES! AMD TrueAudio is a programmable DSP, so improving the technology really comes down to encouraging more comprehensive utilization of that programmability. Techniques like spatialization and increasing soundfield complexity have gone relatively unexplored. For now, most developers have focused on improving the acoustic accuracy of their environment with convolution reverbs—and it sounds awesome!

Q #6 : Can you summarize the main differences between AMD’s Project FreeSync, VESA’s Adpative-Sync DisplayPort standard and Nvidia’s G-Sync ?

Robert: VESA DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync is an open standard that allows a graphics card to control the refresh rate of a display. AMD proposed the amendment to VESA, and it was recently ratified in the DisplayPort 1.2a specification. DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync is a framework that requires a GPU-side technology to provide the user-facing benefits (such as smooth, tearing free, low-latency game play), and FreeSync is AMD’s “secret sauce” to do that. The secret sauce is one part hardware (display controllers) and one part software (AMD Catalyst™). Because FreeSync is based on open standards, it invites all vendors to participate and charges no licensing fees for adoption. That certainly encourages lower end-user costs vs. G-sync, which is locked and licensed. FreeSync and DisplayPort AdaptiveSync capability can be integrated into a monitor’s scaler chip, without the need for proprietary hardware modules. That too encourages lower end-user costs vs. competing technologies.

Recent UPDATE :
As evidence of keeping promises on FreeSync, you may have seen the recent announcement that Samsung will be taking FreeSync into their portfolio. Samsung is the biggest monitor vendor in the world, and they’re going to do five UltraHD displays 24-32” by March, 2015. There are more coming, too—you’ll see at CES!

Q #7 : Richard Huddy told PCPer in an interview that FreeSync monitors should begin sampling in Q4 2014 with monitors shipping in Q1 2015. Is that still the plan ? Can we perhaps get a glimpse of the progress you made on that front.

Robert: Yes, that is still our plan. We recently announced, for example, that the industry’s biggest scaler vendors have agreed to adopt FreeSync. Practically every monitor has a scaler that controls the LCD, so many of these vendors are merely extending the capabilities of the hardware they’re already making. This essential circuitry paves the way for full monitor designs that support FreeSync. This is a huge step forward in the FreeSync ecosystem.

Q #8 : Does AMD have any plans to leverage HSA capable APUs in combination with discrete graphics cards in games for things such as in-game physics, AI or path finding ?

Robert: Good question, but gaming already has adequate tools to address the capabilities of modern hardware. The biggest of those tools is DirectCompute, which GPU vendors like AMD have been using for a long time to do things like global illumination (DiRT: Showdown, 2012). More recently, you can see all the DirectCompute work that was done by AMD and The Creative Assembly on Alien: Isolation to get a sense of how important DirectCompute is to gaming. In the application space, this is much less true, which is why AMD is driving the adoption of HSA and OpenCL. We are creating and proliferating tools that will help users get a more responsive and powerful PC in everyday life. I like to call it “better performance through smarter software.”

Q #9 : What are AMD’s plans for this holiday season in terms of promotions and Never Settle game bundles ?

Robert: Never Settle: Space Edition rolls on! On our most powerful graphics cards, the AMD Radeon R9 Series, gamers can choose 3 games from a current catalog of 25+. Options include Alien: Isolation and Star Citizen! We also just rolled out the Civilization: Beyond Earth bundle, which can be combined with Never Settle: Space Edition at a retailer offering both programs. Gamers could get four free games this holiday season, and that’s one heck of a deal.

Q #10 : AMD’s General Manager of graphics Matt Skynner revealed in an interview during APU14 in China that Virtual Reality will play a very important role in AMD’s future. What can you tell us about AMD’s plans for VR ? How do you intend to tackle the many challenges associated with it in terms of graphics performance and latency.

Robert: It’s been something of a well-kept secret that the GCN Architecture is a low-latency powerhouse, which is ideal for VR. In fact, in comments made in September to Tom’s Hardware made by Oculus VR’s Tom Forsyth, gamers learned that contemporary AMD Radeon™ hardware already supports low-latency VR rendering through ‘asynchronous timewarp.’ Asynchronous timewarp is a technique that can be exposed in AMD Radeon hardware via the Asynchronous Compute Engines (ACE), which can schedule and execute compute and display operations independently of the graphics queue. The ACE is a fundamental architectural building block of AMD Radeon GPUs utilizing the Graphics Core Next architecture. We’ve also been demonstrating Alien: Isolation, an AMD Gaming Evolved title, on the Oculus Rift DK2 at select shows and events. It runs like a dream, and people have loved it!

All-in-all, AMD is very excited by VR, and we’re paying quite a lot of attention to this space. Personally, I think the DK2 is totally awesome and—I have to brag—I have one under my desk at work! It’s awesome!