I've not had too much luck with video cards over the years. Everything I have chosen has ended up being a bit, well... lame. Be it the trusty old 1Mb Trident card I had in my first PC, the Diamond Stealth, Diamond Viper or the ATi Rage 128Pro that I have subsequently upgraded to, they have all failed to live up to my expectations. So I looked long and hard when it came to my most recent upgrade. I had a fairly standard set of requirements; TV-out, 2D and 3D acceleration with a minimum of 32Mb of on-board memory. Surely not that much to ask! Oh, and I wanted it for less than £100. It was the price that proved to be the problem. Pretty much all of the decent 3D video cards came in above my budget. Maybe only slightly over, but over all the same. I hadn't even heard of the VideoLogic Vivid until a friend mentioned that there was a new version of the 'Kyro' chip coming out and that it would knock the spots off the low-priced competition. I was intrigued. It turns out that the Kyro family of chips are made by ST Microelectronics (http://us.st.com) and incorporated into 3rd party boards (like the VideoLogic board on review here). In an attempt to try and develop a low-cost, high-performance graphics solution, ST have taken an extremely innovative approach to the problem of 3D games (in particular). Pretty much all the other 3D cards work by processing every 'surface' in a scene, applying textures and special effects to create the desired appearance. Unfortunately a lot of this work is wasted as a substantial number of these surfaces are never actually visible on-screen. Take a standard screen-shot in a game like Quake, there will be pillars and walls all over the place. Most graphics cards will be busy assigning colours, textures and shading to the every surface INCLUDING the far-side of the walls and pillars; the sides that are not even visible! This is where the Kyro family of chips differs from the mainstream. Rather than rende
r every POLYGON and then display it, the Kyro performs some pretty rapid calculations for every PIXEL of the display; it calculates which will be the visible surface for each pixel and from this it knows which textures/colours/effects it should be busy applying. The result of this is much more efficient use of memory, both in terms of the amount needed on the card and the transfer of data around in memory. So that's the theory out of the way, what's it like in action? Well, the card is a standard AGP slot device, not too bulky and with a fairly sparse population of chips. There is a standard monitor connector on the back and also an S-video-out (so that's my TV-out taken care of). The surface of the circuit-board is dominated by a purple metallic fan which sits over the Kyro-II chip, it looks like this thing is going to chuck out a fair amount of heat! Fitting is easy, first time, no problems although I am a little worried about the amount of clearance between the card and the first PCI slot. There's not much room for air to circulate which could lead to a rapid build-up of heat inside a crowded case. Power the machine on and the Vivid!XS BIOS screen flashes up, so at least I know the card isn't Dead-on-Arrival. Windows starts up and detects that the video-card has changed and so reverts to standard VGA mode. No problem, I insert the supplied driver CD and it auto-installs the drivers. A reboot later and my machine comes back to life with a decent display which I switch back to my favoured resolution. Worried that there may have been driver updates since the driver CD was created the first thing I do is check out the Videologic website. It is here that the driver page tells me a utility should have been installed along with the drivers. It's called "Web Download" and unsurprisingly, it is designed to check the Videologic website for any driver updates. Sounds easy enough so I give it a go. 10 minutes and a reboot l
ater and I have the latest VideoLogic drivers installed, no messing, no fuss. This is the way all driver updates should be! But does it actually accelerate anything? Well, Windows is running fast enough (but that may have something to do with the CPU upgrade as well). To really put it to the test, I started up a saved game of Black & White. The saved game in question was created for a reason. There was SOOOOO much on-screen that my previous machine (OK, it had a slower CPU, but it also had an inferior video card!) slowed down to a terrible 2 frames per second! So was there a difference? You bet there was! I was amazed by the speed at which the landscape was drawn, the frame rate must have been at least 30/second! Scrolling was so smooth that I found myself getting lost from moving too quickly! This called for a more strenuous test, time to up the detail levels. Sure enough, even with the detail set to 'high' the display was significantly faster than previously. I can see me getting along with this video card just fine. Is there a down-side to the card? Of course there are a few things that could be better... the heat output is significant (but unavoidable). I ended up removing the card in the PCI slot closest to the AGP slot and taking off the blanking plate to let a bit of air in/out of the case. While the Kyro-II chipset does an excellent job of 3D acceleration, there are a couple of features that the pricier cards have which this one doesn't. This is not a major deal however and can be compensated for in software (obviously with a processing overhead). DVD acceleration is not one of the Vivid!XS's core functions either, so don't buy one if you want to use it for watching a lot of high-quality DVDs on your PC.
I bought the Vivid!XS because I was on a budget, and my 12mb Voodoo 2 was beginning to groan whenever I tried to play new games. I don't have a monster pc, only a Pentium 3 450Mhz with 192mb of ram, so it definitely wasn't worth getting a Geforce 2 gts/ultra or a Geforce 3. This left me with 2 choices, a Geforce 2 mx400 or a Kyro 2. I decided that the innovative technology of the Kyro 2 was better value for money than the Geforce 2 mx. The Kyro 2 chipset (which the Vivid!XS uses), breaks the image in to little squares and renders them individually, so it doesnt have to keep talking to the memory, which makes it faster. However, the clever bit is that it only renders what you can see, unlike other cards which render everything from the furthest away from you to the nearest, so if you were stuck behind a wall for example, everything behind the wall would still be rendered, even though you couldn't see it, wasting power and time. Anyway, installing the card was easy. I simply removed the old cards (my Voodoo 2 and ATI agp card), and placed the Vivid!XS in. The pc booted fine, and windows told me that the video card driver was not installed properly (as is normal with new cards), however I ignored the windows warnings, and put the supplied cd in. This autoran, and installed the drivers automatically, which impressed me, because it was very easy, and I think that even without much hardware experience this could easily be installed. Apart from drivers, the cd contained documentation, a few game demos, and some opengl screensavers. Most of the screensavers are just pretty patterns, but my favourite, and the one I am currently using is fireworks, that look brilliant, with a realistic, night cloudy sky. The documentation was useful because there was only a simple CD sleeve manual supplied with my card, but this could be becuase I bought an OEM card. The card has tv-out, which is great because my pc is next to a tv, which means
I can play games on my joypad while sitting away from my desk. However, the cable supplied is only about 10cm long, so you will defiinitely need an extension cable. The tv will also need a video in socket (coaxial, usually yellow), otherwise you wil need some sort of adapter. However this function is somewhat limited for anything other than games, because the tv resolution is so low that you can't read any text. My overall opinion of this card is that it is incredible value for money, especially since mine was ony £85, which got me a 32mb OEM version of the card, which included WinDVD 2000, an added bonus I wasn't expecting. Ignore any reviews you hear comlaining about incompatibilities with games, I play Black & White, Deus Ex, Half-Life and many others without any problems.I think this card is THE choice for gamers on a budget, or with a less than cutting edge pc. Well worth it.