Microsoft pushes for upgrades, making DirectX 11.2 a Windows 8.1 and Xbox One exclusive

Microsoft has confirmed that DirectX 11.2 will be exclusive to Windows 8.1 and the Xbox One. With DirectX 11.2 offering some cool new features, and yet no clear technological reason for making it an exclusive, it would seem that Microsoft is attempting to tease Windows 7 and XP holdouts into upgrading to Windows 8.1.

DirectX 11.2 made its debut at Microsoft’s Build conference last week, where it was released along with Windows 8.1 Preview and also demoed on stage by Antoine Leblond.

The standout feature appears to be Direct3D tiled resources, which allows developers to easily use both GPU and system RAM to store textures. On stage, Leblond showed us a high-res game demo that apparently used 9GB of textures, most of which were stored in system RAM.

Beyond tiled resources, DirectX 11.2 introduces a slew of interesting and potentially quite powerful features. GPU overlay support allows for multiple draw planes, so that developers can ensure that their 2D art is always output at its native resolution, while 3D scenes are drawn to a second, scaled pane. Direct3D low latency presentation API gives apps a route to present frames with lower latency, potentially allowing for more a more responsive UI. SwapChainPanel and SurfaceImageSource could both result in faster apps and games. HLSL shader linking will allow devs to create libraries of precompiled shader functions, and link them into full shaders at run-time. A complete list of DirectX 11.2 features and changes can be found on MSDN.

Computer historians and astute gamers will recall that Microsoft pulled the same stunt with DirectX 11.1, making it a Windows 8 exclusive; likewise, DirectX 10 was exclusive to Windows Vista, leaving XP users out in the cold. As we now know, neither of these manoeuvres resulted in Windows 8 or Vista being massive commercial successes. With Windows 8.1, however, the timing is slightly different: The Xbox One will arrive around the same time, and hopefully most of the games will use the new features offered by DirectX 11.2.

With the Xbox One now being based on an x86 architecture, and the operating system sounding suspiciously similar to Windows 8, it should be very easy to port games to Windows 8.1. In short, Windows 8.1 and the Xbox One will have access to some powerful features – and for once, we might actually see a rapid uptake of games that use these features. This could very well be the beginning of a gaming renaissance.

Finally, as a curious aside, DirectX 11.2 also won’t be coming to Windows 8, despite the fact that it’s virtually identical to Windows 8.1. Or perhaps, as Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade for everyone already running Windows 8, maybe it isn’t that surprising. It would be interesting if this was a hint from Microsoft that Windows 8.1 will actually be a mandatory update for Windows 8 users, but that’s pure speculation at this point.