The growth of graphical fidelity in video games and PC hardware has always been proportional. GPU manufacturers such as Nvidia or AMD release new GPUs that can handle more demanding graphics, allowing game developers to create games with such graphics.
However, with the introduction of DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) from Nvidia, that may not be the case anymore. Through this unique AI technology, DLSS can improve a game’s performance considerably without any major disadvantages while maintaining visual quality.
It sounds like magic, but it isn’t. So, let’s what DLSS is, how it works, and whether it is really worth it.
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What Is DLSS?
DLSS is an AI-based technology developed by Nvidia. This technology relies on special hardware, Tensor Cores, that can only be found on RTX graphics cards. Specifically, every SKU part of the 2000 and 3000 series.
What it does is use that AI or deep learning technology to upscale images from a lower resolution to a higher one while maintaining (almost) the same level of visual quality. All of this provides the user with more FPS.
This is especially useful for users that want to run games at 4K at 60 FPS or more. Without the best possible graphics card, that is impossible to achieve. By turning on DLSS, that becomes possible. This option downscales the native resolution to a lower one, 1440p for example, fills in all of the missing pixels to deliver an image identical to the native resolution.
Why Use DLSS?
After all of this information above it may leave you wondering why you should use this new technology.
The answer is simple. DLSS goes through all of those hoops of downscaling and upscaling with deep learning to provide you with much better performance. So, if you are unable to hit 60 FPS on your RTX 2060 in DLSS supported titles, enable that option in settings and check how well the FPS is going to improve.
It sounds like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want a performance boost with just a press of a button?
However, it is not always that simple. In some cases, DLSS can affect the visual quality, especially in those video games where DLSS has not been updated to version 2.0.
Although it is important to note that all games from this point on will support version 2.0 and up.
A good example is the ghosting effect seen on Cyberpunk 2077 while DLSS is enabled (any setting).
Ghosting is not a huge problem, but it can get annoying and ruin that sense of immersion. Although low FPS and stuttering can also ruin your immersion. So, it is up to you whether these disadvantages are worth the extra performance.
The main benefit of using this new technology is to get more FPS in games. How much more performance you could get depends on the native resolution, GPU, game, and the quality of DLSS. Usually, users have the option to choose from different modes such as Quality, Balanced, and Performance.
With the Quality option, you get the best possible visual quality and the lowest boost in performance. The Balanced option is something in-between. While the Performance option can bring up a performance uplift of up to 70%, the visual quality will drop considerably.
With DLSS 2.0 and Performance Mode, Nvidia claims that the performance gains can be up to 3 times. We’re sure this is true only in the right conditions, but that is still quite impressive.
Another thing we have to note is the fact that DLSS must be manually implemented into every video game with the help of the developers. Even though this implementation process has been made much easier with DLSS 2.0 and other updates, it still hinders its availability.
At the time of writing, there are about 30 to 40 video games that have successfully implemented DLSS. It’s not a small number and it will probably continue increasing in the future, but considering how many games are out there and how many more will be released in 2021 alone, it’s not enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.
We cannot know for certain whether Nvidia will make this implementation process even simpler (and free) for developers so even indie studios could utilize the power of DLSS.
Here are some of the more popular games that have DLSS support:
- Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition
- Watch Dogs: Legion
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
- Death Stranding
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Minecraft for Windows 10
- Monster Hunter: World (1.0)
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1.0)
- Nioh 2
… and several dozen more.
Additionally, availability is hindered by the fact that DLSS can only be used by RTX GPUs. Anything older or made from AMD cannot utilize this option.
It’s only normal for the competition to come up with a response to this kind of new technology. Just like how AMD responded with FreeSync to Nvidia’s G-Sync with a cheaper and just as good alternative. Same as Nvidia responded with Reflex technology to AMD’s Anti-Lag solution.
AMD’s alternative solution to DLSS is called FSR or FidelityFX Super Resolution.
Unlike DLSS, FSR takes a much more different approach. Instead of relying on hardware, it is a software-based solution that can work on multiple series of GPUs. At the time of writing, AMD has confirmed that FSR can work on RX 6000, RX 5000, RX 500, and even GTX 1000 series GPUs.
Even Nvidia has already shrugged off their older GTX cards while AMD is delivering new features for them.
We can assume that more GPUs will support once this feature is properly tested around the world.
It is also important to note that AMD has been pretty slow with this response. And at its release, it only supports a few games.
We are left to see AMD’s approach and how they will expand on this idea.
Is it worth it?
The question remains to be answered, is DLSS worth it?
Well, it depends on the situation. If you have an RTX card, there really is no reason why you shouldn’t enable this feature if you do not want to get some extra FPS, unless you are bothered by the side effects.
In single-player games, it is probably best to stick with the Quality mode for the best visuals. For multiplayer, you can drop it down to Balanced or Performance mode.
However, buying an RTX card just to use this feature may not be worth it. It’s still not widespread enough which means your favorite games may not support DLSS. The main selling point of any graphics card is still its raw rasterization performance. Extra features come second.
Overall, DLSS is an amazing piece of technology and Nvidia will definitely continue expanding it, making it better and more efficient.