With the Catalyst 3.8 drivers ATI introduced a number of new features - some useful productivity tools, some for performance and some just for fun. Coming under the 'just for fun' category were the SMARTSHADER post processing effects that users can apply to provide some interesting effects on current titles.

With the recently released Catalyst 4.2 drivers, and in conjunction with Beyond3D and DriverHeaven for a few months, ATI are giving users the option of creating their own SMARTSHADER effects with the SMARTSHADER plug-in. Before we look at how this can be done, and details of how to win a new ATI Radeon 9800 XT here's a short chat with ATI's Maurice Ribble and Roger Descheneaux looking at SMARTSHADER Effects and how they are achieved...

What was the driving factor behind including SMARTSHADER effects as an option in the drivers?

Roger - We were just hanging around talking about interesting things you could do with pixel shaders, and we came up with this idea: one of the things we could do was perform post-processing operations at swap time. The idea immediately struck a chord with us. We had all this extra pixel shader power- we were getting hundreds of frames per second in Quake 3- and old applications couldn't use it. Why not make it an option for the users, just as a kind of toy?

I talked to our team lead about it, and he said it sounded interesting, but not like something important enough to spend time on. But he agreed to let us put it in the driver if we worked on it as a side project, on the weekends, in our own time. We just did it, and we submitted it to an internal contest at ATI for "best idea of the month". I forgot what the name of the contest was, but it's part of the CATALYST program. We won, and they decided to include our idea in the driver.

Maurice - I'd say that the driving factor was that it was fairly easy it do. The fact that we were able to get some cool looking pictures in Quake 3 after just one night of hacking is what got us going and from there we just kept adding more to it.

Have you had any feedback from users - if so, what has the reception been like?

Maurice - It seems some people thought it was a neat gimmick which is how I viewed it. Others seemed to actually feel we had cheated them out of other driver features, performance, or bug fixes by wasting our time on this. To that I'd say this feature took nearly nothing away from the core driver because it was done in our spare time.

Roger - The feedback was mixed. Some people were angry that we'd spent time working on a feature like this. Others thought it was kind of interesting. I think my favorite response was your review, Dave: you said something like, "The SMARTSHADER effects have got to be the most useless feature ever put into the driver, but I spent hours playing with it." Sorry I can't remember the exact quote. We pretty much agree. It's not something to be taken too seriously- it's just something we put together on the side, because we thought it would be fun.

For the most part, that's the response we got: they weren't a big deal, but they were kind of fun.

We were also concerned about cheating. We didn't want to make any effects which would let people cheat in games. The response we got was pretty much that yes, you couldn't cheat very well with SMARTSHADER effects. Some people said they thought they could get an advantage with them, but others disagreed. If there was an advantage, it was pretty small.