Meet The New Future of Gaming: Different Than The Old One

Up until last month, NVIDIA had been pushing a different, more conventional future for gaming and video cards, perhaps best exemplified by their recent launch of 27-in 4K G-Sync HDR monitors, courtesy of Asus and Acer. The specifications and display represented – and still represents – the aspired capabilities of PC gaming graphics: 4K resolution, 144 Hz refresh rate with G-Sync variable refresh, and high-quality HDR. The future was maxing out graphics settings on a game with high visual fidelity, enabling HDR, and rendering at 4K with triple-digit average framerate on a large screen. That target was not achievable by current performance, at least, certainly not by single-GPU cards. In the past, multi-GPU configurations were a stronger option provided that stuttering was not an issue, but recent years have seen both AMD and NVIDIA take a step back from CrossFireX and SLI, respectively.

Particularly with HDR, NVIDIA expressed a qualitative rather than quantitative enhancement in the gaming experience. Faster framerates and higher resolutions were more known quantities, easily demoed and with more intuitive benefits – though in the past there was the perception of 30fps as cinematic, and currently 1080p still remains stubbornly popular – where higher resolution means more possibility for details, higher even framerates meant smoother gameplay and video. Variable refresh rate technology soon followed, resolving the screen-tearing/V-Sync input lag dilemma, though again it took time to catch on to where it is now – nigh mandatory for a higher-end gaming monitor.

For gaming displays, HDR was substantively different than adding graphical details or allowing smoother gameplay and playback, because it meant a new dimension of ‘more possible colors’ and ‘brighter whites and darker blacks’ to gaming. Because HDR capability required support from the entire graphical chain, as well as high-quality HDR monitor and content to fully take advantage, it was harder to showcase. Added to the other aspects of high-end gaming graphics and pending the further development of VR, this was the future on the horizon for GPUs.

But today NVIDIA is switching gears, going to the fundamental way computer graphics are modelled in games today. Of the more realistic rendering processes, light can be emulated as rays that emit from their respective sources, but computing even a subset of the number of rays and their interactions (reflection, refraction, etc.) in a bounded space is so intensive that real time rendering was impossible. But to get the performance needed to render in real time, rasterization essentially boils down 3D objects as 2D representations to simplify the computations, significantly faking the behavior of light.

It’s on real time ray tracing that NVIDIA is staking its claim with GeForce RTX and Turing’s RT Cores. Covered more in-depth in our architecture article, NVIDIA’s real time ray tracing implementation takes all the shortcuts it can get, incorporating select real time ray tracing effects with significant denoising but keeping rasterization for everything else. Unfortunately, this hybrid rendering isn’t orthogonal to the previous concepts. Now, the ultimate experience would be hybrid rendered 4K with HDR support at high, steady, and variable framerates, though GPUs didn’t have enough performance to get to that point under traditional rasterization.

There’s a still a performance cost incurred with real time ray tracing effects, except right now only NVIDIA and developers have a clear idea of what it is. What we can say is that utilizing real time ray tracing effects in games may require sacrificing some or all three of high resolution, ultra high framerates, and HDR. HDR is limited by game support more than anything else. But the first two have arguably minimum performance standards when it comes to modern high-end gaming on PC – anything under 1080p is completely unpalatable, and anything under 30fps or more realistically 45 to 60fps hurts the playability. Variable refresh rate can mitigate the latter and framedrops are temporary, but low resolution is forever.

Ultimately, the real time ray tracing support needs to be implemented by developers via a supporting API like DXR – and many have been working hard on doing so – but currently there is no public timeline of application support for real time ray tracing, Tensor Core accelerated AI features, and Turing advanced shading. The list of games with support for Turing features - collectively called the RTX platform - will be available and updated on NVIDIA's site.

The RTX 2080 Ti & 2080 Review The RTX Recap: A Brief Overview of the Turing RTX Platform
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  • Fritzkier - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    Blame both. Why the f you blame AMD for NVIDIA's own fault?
    And yes, AMD had competitive offering on mid-end, not on high end. But, that's before 7mm. Let's see what will we got on 7mm. 7mm will be released next year anyway, it's not that far off.
    Reply
  • PopinFRESH007 - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    Yep, lets wait for those 7mm processes. Those chips should only be the size of my computer with a couple hundred thousand transistors. Reply
  • Holliday75 - Friday, September 21, 2018 - link

    Haha I was about to question your statement until I paid more attention to the process size he mentioned. Reply
  • Fritzkier - Saturday, September 22, 2018 - link

    We seriously needs an edit button. Thanks autocorrect. Reply
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    So you are saying that if AMD were competitive then NVIDIA could never have implemented such major innovations in games technology... So, competition is bad? Reply
  • dagnamit - Thursday, September 20, 2018 - link

    Competition can stifle innovation when the market is involved in race to see how efficiently they can leverage current technology. The consumer GPU market has been about the core count/core efficiency race for a very long time.

    Because Nvidia has a commanding lead in that department, they are able to add in other technology without falling behind AMD. In fact, they’ve been given the opportunity to start an entirely new market with ray-tracing tech.

    There are a great many more companies developing ray-tracing hardware than rasterization focused hardware at the current moment. With Nvidia throwing their hat in now, it could mean other companies start to bring hardware solutions to the fore that don’t have a Radeon badge. It won’t be Red v. Green anymore, and that’s very exciting.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, September 21, 2018 - link

    Your Brave New World would involve someone else magically catching up with AMD and Nvidia's lead in conventional rasterization tech. Spoiler alert: nobody has in the past 2 decades and the best potential competition, Intel, isn't entering the fray until ~2020 Reply
  • dagnamit - Sunday, September 23, 2018 - link

    No. I’m saying that companies that specialize in ray-tracing technology may have an opportunity to get into the consumer discrete GPU market. They don’t need to catch up with anything. Reply
  • eva02langley - Thursday, September 20, 2018 - link

    Not AMD fault if Nvidia is asking 1200$ US. Stop blaming AMD because you want to purchase Nvidia cards at better price, BLAME Nvidia!

    It is not AMD who force Ray Tracing on us. It is not AMD who want to provide gamework tools to sabotage the competition and gamers at the same time. It is not AMD charging us the G-sync tax. It is not AMD that screw gamers for the wallet of investors.

    It is all Nvidia fault! Stop defending them! There is no excuses.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Thursday, September 20, 2018 - link

    I accept that nVidia's choices are their own and not the "fault" of any third party. On the other hand, nVidia is a business and their primary objective is to make money. Manufacturing GPUs with features and performance that customers find valuable is a tool to meet their objective. So while their decisions are their own responsibility, they are not unexpected. Competition from a third party with the same money making objective limits their ability to make money as they now have to provide at least the perception of more value to the customer. Previous generation hardware also limits their ability to make money as the relative increase in features and performance (and consequently value) are less than if the previous generation didn't exist. If the value isn't perceived to be high enough, customers won't upgrade from existing offerings. However, if nVidia simply stops offering previous generation hardware, new builds may still be a significant source of sales for those without an existing viable product.

    Long story short, since there is no viable competition from AMD or another third party to limit nVidia's prices, it falls to us as consumers to keep the prices in check through waiting or buying previous gen hardware. If, however, consumers in general decide these cards are worth the cost, then those who are discontent simply need to accept that they fit into a lower price category of the market than they previously did. It is unlikely that nVidia will bring prices back down without reason.

    Note: I tend to believe that nVidia got a good idea of how much more the market was willing to pay for their product during the mining push. Though I don't like it (and won't pay for it), I can't really blame them for wanting the extra profits in their own coffers rather than letting it go to retailers.
    Reply

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