A plethora of shader tools

When it rains, it pours. We’re being treated to a slew of new shader writing tools. ATI updates their previously available RenderMonkey. NVIDIA jumps into the fold with FX Composer. And RTZen joins as well with a more production oriented tool for shader writers. There are some other tools that are out there but they are generally student/hobbyist products and the support is somewhat iffy. Here’s a quick summary of each product.

RTzen™, Inc., a new company dedicated to empowering 3D artists, today announced it’s conducting the first public demonstration of its RT/shader editing tool at the Game Developer Conference (GDC) in numerous partner booths.* RT/shader, shipping later this month, is the industry’s first 3D editing tool with the capability to automatically generate high-level shading language code in real-time, leading to a dramatic reduction in development time and cost. Moreover, it enables more 3D graphic artists to leverage shaders to increase the realism and image quality of 3D digital content – like in games, product design and environment simulation. RT/shader will be on display in the ATI Technologies (booth#827) and NVIDIA Corporation (booth#808) booths and during Alias and Discreet technical seminars. If you get it at GDC the price is $US 1595. – regularly it’s $US 1995. Get more information here.

NVIDIA has released FX Composer. FX Composer enables developers to create high performance DirectX 9.0 HLSL shaders in an IDE with unique real-time preview and optimization features. FX Composer was designed with the goal of making shader development and optimization easier for programmers while providing an intuitive GUI for artists customizing shaders for a particular scene. FX Composer comes with dozens of sample projects, performance tutorials, and more than 120 sample shaders. You down load it here.

ATI has released RenderMonkey 1.5, and it’s the only tool out there that supports the OpenGL shader language GLSL. There have been a lot of usability improvements since the initial release. The interface has been redone and it’ll look familiar to those who use Microsoft’s Visual Studio. A lot of drag and drop, right-click properties menus, and much more attention to making writing shaders as effortless as possible. There’s a review of RenderMonkey in the April Game Developer magazine (which is distributed free at GDC). Download RenderMonkey here.

Summary: From conversations with Jeremy Hubbell at RT/Zen & the FX Composer group at NVIDIA and the RenderMonkey group at ATI about the capabilities of their products I can do a quick summary of the products. If RT/Shader has done a good job of integrating with Maya and 3dsMax so that it really is seamless integration and the price is well worth it. ATI and NVIDIA are seemingly squaring off against each other, intentionally or not, with very similar tools. They both are similar in outlook and design, but neither offers seamless integration with the usual tools. NVIDIA has done a nice job of predicting performance using GPU cycle count, register usage, utilization rating, and FPS but it requires a information of the target GPU – which currently exist only for NVIDIA’s products. ATI supports OpenGL shaders on GLSL capable ATI & 3DLabs, which pretty much decides that issue if you need to use GLSL. And NOBODY provides a real debugger in any of these tools. The closest is to use the DirectX 9 reference (i.e. software emulation) driver in Visual Studio.

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