The advancement 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, which allows game developers to create games with more advanced graphics.
However, with the introduction of DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) from NVIDIA, that may no longer be the case. With 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. Let’s look at what DLSS is, how it works, and whether or not it is truly 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 that belongs to the 2000 and 3000 series.
It works by using 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. This provides the user with more FPS for similar graphics.
This is particularly useful for users that want to run games at 4K at 60 FPS or more. Without one of the best possible graphics cards, that is impossible to achieve. By turning on DLSS, it becomes possible. This option downscales the native resolution to a lower one, 1440p for example, then fills in all of the missing pixels to produce an image almost identical to the native resolution.
Why Use DLSS?
This information might leave you wondering why you should use this new technology.
The answer is simple: DLSS goes through all the hoops of downscaling and upscaling with deep learning to provide you with much better performance. If you are unable to hit 60 FPS on your RTX 2060 in DLSS supported titles, enable that option in settings and see how well it improves the performance.
It sounds like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want a performance boost with just the press of a button?
However, it isn’t always that simple. In some cases, DLSS can negatively impact the visual quality, particularly in video games where DLSS has not been updated to version 2.0.
Still, it is important to note that all games from this point forward will support version 2.0 and up.
One example is the ghosting effect seen on Cyberpunk 2077 while DLSS is enabled (any setting).
Ghosting is not a major problem, but it can be annoying and ruin your sense of immersion. On the other hand, low FPS and stuttering can also ruin your immersion. It is up to you to decide whether these disadvantages are worth the performance gains.
The main benefit of using this new technology is to see more FPS in games. How much performance you could gain depends on the native resolution, GPU, game, and the quality of DLSS. Users usually 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 lies somewhere in-between. While the Performance option can bring 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 more. This is probably only true under the right circumstances, but it is still quite impressive.
Something else to note is the fact that DLSS must be manually implemented into each video game with the help of its developers. Although the implementation process has been made much easier with DLSS 2.0 and other updates, it still reduces its availability.
As of writing, there are about 30 to 40 video games that have successfully implemented DLSS. This isn’t a small number and should continue to increase in the future, but considering how many games are out there and how many more are released annually, it isn’t enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.
We can’t know for certain whether NVIDIA will make the implementation process even simpler (and free) for developers, which would allow indie studios to 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 dozens more.
A number of new video games have added DLSS support including F1 2021, Red Dead Redemption 2, Rust, Doom Eternal, Myst, No Man’s Sky, Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition, Chernobylite, and more.
Additionally, availability is hindered by the fact that DLSS can only be used by RTX GPUs. Any NVIDIA GPU older than that or those made by AMD cannot utilize this option.
It’s no surprise when the competition comes up with a response to this kind of new technology. We saw this when AMD responded to NVIDIA’s G-Sync with a cheaper and equally strong alternative, FreeSync. It also happened when NVIDIA responded to AMD’s Anti-Lag solution with Reflex technology.
AMD’s alternative to DLSS is called FSR or FidelityFX Super Resolution.
FSR takes a much different approach from DLSS. Instead of relying on hardware, it is a software-based solution that can work on multiple series of GPUs. As of writing, AMD has confirmed that FSR can work on RX 6000, RX 5000, RX 500, and even GTX 1000 series GPUs.
NVIDIA has already dismissed their older GTX cards while AMD delivers new features for them.
We assume that more GPUs will support this feature once it is properly tested around the world.
It’s also important to note that AMD has been pretty slow with its response. At release, it only supports a few games.
We are waiting to see more of AMD’s approach and how they will expand on their idea.
Is it worth it?
The question is yet to be answered: is DLSS worth it?
Most of the time, the answer is definitely yes. However, this isn’t universal. If you have an RTX card, there really isn’t a reason not to enable this feature if you want to get some extra FPS, unless you are bothered by the side effects.
In single-player games, it’s probably best to stick with the Quality mode for the most impressive visuals. For multiplayer, you can switch 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, which means your favorite games may not support DLSS. The main selling point of any graphics card is still in its raw rasterization performance; extra features are secondary.
Overall, DLSS is an amazing piece of technology and NVIDIA will definitely continue to improve it, making it more effective and more efficient.