Admittedly, I've been looking forward to testing out a video card based on the Kyro II for some time. I have the sad burden of admitting my past, where I had a poor history of predicting the winner in the graphics card market. Once upon a time, I trumpeted the values of the FireGL line from Diamond. The gaming performance of those cards fell flat, as they were designed for raytracing and 3D Studio Max. Even earlier than that, I believed in the performance capability of my S3 ViRGE VX card. It ran Tomb Raider and Descent, but it's poor Direct3D support quickly left it in the dust. I even held the banner for the ill-fated PowerVR once.
Those who know their history will be quick to tell me that if I think the PowerVR chipset was a failure, then I should scoff at the notion of the Kyro II, which is actually a grandson to the original PowerVR chipset. At one time, I would have thought those people to be right. I laughed at Sega when they chose the PowerVR2 chipset to power their Dreamcast, saying that they'd never have a 3D powerhouse using a chip like that! Sega and NEC proved me wrong, of course, and showed the world that the PowerVR chipset was not a foolish venture, as it made some of the most beautiful games of the day come alive, such as Jet Grind Radio, Ecco: Defender of the Future, and Soul Calibur.
The Kyro II has a lot of competition to live up to, and big shoes to fill. NVIDIA has long kept a corner on the market with their bigger-better-faster-more video cards that always seemed to push graphics to "ludicrous speed" and offered features that left people asking, "Why bother?" When the GeForce2 came out and supported a hardware-based texturing-and-lighting (T&L) engine, people said, "Why did they bother with a T&L engine if there aren't any games that support it?" Today, there still aren't too many games that support hardware T&L other than the notable Quake III Arena, but they are coming. In fact, when I read previews describing the potential performance of the Kyro II, those very same people remarked "The performance of this card will suffer due to its lack of hardware-based T&L." Turnabout is fair play, no?
STMicro designed the Kyro II with ambitious goals - The processor was intended to be a budget solution that didn't *act* like a budget solution. For one, the Kyro II chipset acts as the antithesis of the Voodoo3. Whereas the Voodoo3 would reduce precision to 24-bits and downsample to 16-bit color on output, the Kyro II performs all internal calculations at 32-bit precision, and outputs its results appropriately. Thus, even if a game is using only 16-bit rendering, the Kyro II applies 3D lighting and shading effects using 32-bit color calculations, increasing image quality in such situations.
However, the key to the Kyro's performance is in its use of HSR, or hidden surface removal. The simple explanation is this: Most 3D cards take the geometry data and arrange the scene without evaluating it beforehand. The Kyro II instead optimizes its rendering performance by removing any polygons that aren't visible in the current frame. This saves memory bandwidth and performance cycles by making fewer polygons to be textured and lightmapped and drawn.
There are upsides and downsides to this technology. If you play games like Tribes 2 or space shooters, then HSR isn't going to do much for you because you don't have surfaces hidden very frequently. On the other hand, in games like Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena (map-dependent), entire walls of polygons are often rendered unnecessarily. By taking these rendering shortcuts, the processor doesn't have to do as much work, and can thus render frames faster.
The original PowerVR used similar time-shaving techniques to save on rendering time, employing a technique known as tile-based rendering. While a lot of hype was built around the launch of the original product, the driver implementation was difficult to implement. Few vendors latched onto the product, and thus only a few cards were ever made with the chip, the most notable brand being VideoLogic. Tile-based rendering lived on, however, and matured in later versions of the PowerVR chipsets. In fact, it eventually led to the development of HSR. Egaer to renew their name in the industry, STMicro returned to the retail market with the Kyro II, hoping to restore faith in its tile-based rendering and introduce the world to HSR. Stepping in to defend the honor of the Kyro II is none other than Hercules, recently one of the most noteworthy manfacturers on NVIDIA-based video cards.