Matrox unveils Millennium G550

Cheap, supports lots of monitors, animates... er... faces

Matrox has today announced its latest graphics chip, the G550, as we predicted a month or so back.

The G550, a cut-down version of Matrox's ill-fated feature-rich G800 chip, does indeed skip full DirectX 8 programmable vertex and pixel shading systems to focus on the API's matrix skinning functionality, implemented as the HeadCasting Engine to power facial animation.

Matrox's thinking here is that modelling and animating users' heads in 3D will soon become something of a killer app. You know the kind of thing: gamers will get their faces skinned and added to online game characters, while others will use the technology for virtual chat environments or mock video conferencing.

Having seen the apps in operation, we're less convinced. Not everyone's going to find it easy to get face textures created from photos. Matrox is partnering with UK-based DigiMask to do the scanning work, but so far there a very few software companies out there who have proved willing to license DigiMask's proprietary texture data format as Matrox has done.

DigiMask's results are pretty unconvincing in any case. The G550 doesn't do a bad job of animating them, but a few smiles, winks, nods and shakes - cleverly keyed to speech data - doesn't quite make for a lifelike model.

The G550 chip has two rendering pipelines, both capable of handling two-texture, 32-bit colour pixels per clock cycle. It supports single-pass trilinear and anisotropic filtering, along with environment-mapped bump mapping. Hurrah. Matrox couldn't tell us what the clock speed is - "It's still being finalised," said a spokeswoman - but previously reported sources put it between 200MHz and 250MHz.

The AGP 4x Millennium G550 card supports 64-bit DDR SDRAM and contains 32MB of it, as expected. The RAMDAC runs at 360MHz and supports resolutions up to 2048x1536 in 32-bit colour.

It also supports Matrox's DualHead multi-monitor display system - including, apparently, "the industry's only support for true Windows 2000 multi-display". DualHead, we reckon, is more of a USP than HeadCasting. So too is the price: the retail Millennium G550 is will ship for around £95 (exc. VAT) here in the UK and around $135 in the US. ®

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