There have always been debates about the difference in 2D image quality between NVIDIA, ATI, and Matrox cards and questions about the improvement a line conditioner can actually bring. Since I believe the difference in analog picture quality to be very small and that image tests are more important than oscilloscope tests, I came up with an elaborate test methodology that involves multiple monitors, specific test images, and special image analysis tools. I planned to start the article in January or so and spend a few months to complete the entire project.
Over the weekend, I spent an hour doing some initial image quality tests on my own just for fun. After an hour of testing, I discovered that the differences were noticeable enough that I had plenty of data for an initial article. Rather than have you wait until next year for a definitive article, I believe there's enough data to get started with an initial look at the current set of data. I'm going to keep my commentary to a minimum and be cautious with my conclusions so that they will not change with additional data. This is a peek at a work-in-progress, a "rapid communication" article of sorts.
iiyama i90A Monitor at 1600x1200, 32-bit color, 85 Hz, 6500K
In order to effectively evaluate the source picture quality of graphics card, we need to make sure we have a good way to display the picture and objectively analyze the output. I don't have results from all of the monitors, but today I'll show you the results from my iiyama i90A. The iiyama monitor is a 19" Diamondtron NF screen with an excellent 300MHz bandwidth, and 115kHz horizontal sync. There is a rock-solid power supply behind the electron guns making it a very good CRT.
Canon EOS Digital Rebel
The Digital Rebel is a 6 megapixel 1.6x crop digital SLR. For still images, this digital SLR offers superb image quality and contains Canon's latest firmware. I have spent much more time with the D30 but this bargain priced D-SLR is what I grab when I want to go stealthy or when I need something lighter.
Canon BG-E1 Battery Grip
The BG-E1 doesn't add anything to the test, but since it was used, I've included it in the system spec.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM is among Canon's sharper prime lenses. We've stopped down to f/8.0 for all our shots and chosen a conservative 1:5 reproduction ratio.
Manfrotto 3021BPRO Tripod Legs and Manfrotto 488RC0 Ball Head
The best camera is useless if the final image is blurred from camera shake. Our Manfrotto setup is more than adequate for the equipment we're using.
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra Reference Board
FIC ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
Our colleagues at Extremetech have noted that the reference boards from NVIDIA are better than most retail boards when it comes to digital DVI output. No one's sure how this affects the analog output at this time.
Monster Power HTS 3600 Stage 3 Version 2.0 Line Conditioner
We're going to test no-line conditioner versus a Monster Stage 3 Version 2.0 line conditioner.
All shots taken at f/8.0, 1" exposure, ISO 100 under identical lighting conditions. 1:5 Macro Reproduction Ratio
Some of us may question the ability of our system to resolve 2D image quality differences. To demonstrate the optical quality of the setup, I present you these two samples:
A cropped image showing the Windows cursor at 1600x1200
Close-up of a 20 dollar US bill, USM'd to show all detail