The inspiration for this project came out of a discussion I had while watching promotional videos for various games being released this year. I noticed some used pre-rendered sequences, and others used actual in-game footage. The notable part here is that while discussing the videos, I found out that my companion was not sure if what we had seen was in-game or pre-rendered. In short, the difference in quality was small enough to give room for doubt here. This struck me, because the video with pre-rendered scenes was doubtlessly more expensive to produce. If most of their audience can't tell the difference, why spend all the extra money on content creation? And furthermore, why spend money on content that won't even be in the final product, if scenes from the actual product can be just as entertaining?
Below are two example videos that show the difference between software and hardware rendering in practice:
One is for Final Fantasy 13, a game produced by SquareEnix. This company makes beautiful pre-rendered sequences to go with its games, both during gameplay and in commercials for the product. They are known for making use of Mental Ray for their pre-rendered videos, and offering up cut-scenes of these videos when characters interact. These cutscenes, such as the one below, show the benefits and capabilities of software rendering. This will also provide a good contrast for the next video, which takes the opposite approach.
And below is a promotional video for Mass Effect 2, a game created by company Bioware using the Unreal engine. This video was displayed during a leadup match to the superbowl this year and it caught my eye for two reasons. One: it was quite long, clocking in at two minutes compared to the usual 30 second commercial spot. Two: it appears to use only in-game footage. For such an expensive ad slot, I was surprised to see them use this method and to pull it off well.
Watching these two trailers back to back, it's possible to spot the differences in quality if you know what to look for. You might see it even clearer if you watch each in HD, which at the time of writing is an option on these links. But as mentioned before, not everyone can spot the differences. The gap between hardware and software is much smaller than it used to be, and the gap is shrinking.