Sapphire shows 18-screen demo in Computex

Computex 2013: It’s more than just the awe in the setup.

Sapphire ProAV ComputexSapphire was showing off their latest and greatest in Computex this year, in a room on the fifth floor of the TWTC Nangang Exhibition Hall, just outside the media center.  One of the demos just stood out and caught the eyes immediately, an 18-screen setup with 3 FirePro W9000 GPUs. Some sites just focus on the display count, and some fantasized about 18-display surround gaming, but it’s not the numbers or the demo setup that count.

Sapphire Computex PowerCastX Demo

The important part of the demo is actually the digital signage management software, called PowerCastX from their Pro AV line. What the software does is to take any Eyefinity single large surface (SLS, a “single large surface” formed by a group of displays) and split them as you wish. One can split a six-display setup or even a single display into a variety of “containers” by drag ‘n’ drop in the PowerCastX interface and assign the contents (plain text block, ticker overlays, images, flash animation, video, even webpages) to be shown on each of the containers. There will be software upscaling if one intends to span a video container across multiple displays, or software downscaling for splitting a display surface (again, an Eyefinity SLS or a single display will do) into different number of containers. The contents shown on each container can also be controlled by a script with the software supporting the scheduling of up to 10 scripts at a time, and the schedules can also be edited in the interface. The GPU in the setup is actually less important as all FirePro GPUs are supported so the lowest-end FirePro W600 GPUs would still do the job fine even with 6 displays connected to each GPU.

Imagine at a self-serve restaurant there is an electronic menu and several digital signage that display visual-only, sponsored infotainment programming and commercials. With Eyefinity, there’s additional flexibility to place the displays at various physical locations. With a six-display setup the electronic menu can be displayed with a 3×1 portrait container and a maximum of three infotainment displays around the restaurant, each of them showing different content according to the scripts defined with the management software. With a larger budget and higher end FirePro GPUs you can have many more displays. PowerCastX is a flexible digital signage solution for even a large place such as a food court.

Sure, the 18-screen setup is every hardcore gamer’s dream with the best level of immersion in ultra photo-realistic gaming, imagine the sheer number of pixels that span across the 18 monitors in portrait mode, which stands at 19440 horizontal pixels by 1920 vertical pixels, a total of 37.3 megapixels with a 81:8 aspect ratio. However, the problem that prevents this setup from actually being feasible for gaming is that, it’s not possible to create an SLS on a group of displays which are connected to different GPUs (running in CrossFireX) on one system. [Author’s note: And that’s why the GPUs in the PowerCastX demo setup were not working in CrossFireX mode, i.e. not connected using CrossFireX cables.]

We have asked AMD about this functionality and what we got is that setups with more than 6 displays are not officially certified for Radeon gaming cards at the moment, and the driver does not support creating an SLS over displays connected to different GPUs in CrossFireX mode. The PowerCastX demo setup utilizes the traditional “extended desktop”, showing the purpose of the demo setup, a flexible digital signage solution that benefits business, instead of gaming.

The PowerCastX software is licensed on a per PC basis where the number of displays is not limited per PC. At the end of the day having a flexible digital signage solution with a good management software for the content would be more beneficial to businesses than just gaming. Digital signage is serious business especially when FirePro branded APUs are going to enter multi-display gaming market in the near term with more powerful integrated graphics solutions. S|A

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Leo Yim

Author at SemiAccurate
Leo Yim is our correspondent from the far flung reaches of East Asia. Fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English he'd rather be talking about computers no matter what language. A true detail man he dreams of building gaming rigs from workstation class parts.