Nvidia has long touted RTX as the “holy grail” of computer graphics. They themselves said a few years back that we were a decade aware from this technology becoming consumer friendly, but here we are with the GeForce RTX 20 series (check out the RTX 20 pricing, specs and performance).
As far as we’re concerned though, Nvidia calling ray-tracing the ‘holy grail’ is inconsequential. Team Green just wants to sell more graphics cards at jacked up prices because they’re a business, and a hugely successful one at that. So just how good is RTX and is it going to be worth spending an absolute minimum of $500 on a GeForce RTX 2070?
What is Nvidias ray tracing and how will it effect your graphics and gaming experience?
Real-time ray-tracing, or RTX, is a method for physics-based rendering of lighting and shadows. Each and every ray of light is tracked from its source to its destination, bouncing off objects, refracting through glass, and generally behaving exactly as you’d expect light to behave. A developer can put a light source in a game and RTX will calculate how far the light travels, how it bounces and refracts off objects, and how it reflects off surfaces.
Different light sources also impact one another, requiring some incredibly complex computations as the RTX GPUs calculate exactly how this would look in real life. For example, how a flame-throwing Churchill tank and its fiery payload would reflect in a shop window, or how a fighter plane would look as it skimmed near the surface of a lake.
The end result of ray tracing is realistic and lifelike lighting effects that create far more believable environments. These days, photorealistic textures are a breeze, but it's the lighting and shadows which give these objects a realistic presence within a game.
If we compare this to current rasterization techniques, it's both immensely demanding and also results in better quality lighting. Rasterization works by rendering light in a straight line. A lamp pointing at a chair, for example, would cast a shadow behind the chair. However, ray tracing goes a step further and simulates where the light reflecting from the chair would be cast, or perhaps how light can reflect onto a mirror and behind the chair. It can even calculate how the colour of light will change as it passed through certain objects. With ray tracing, we are dealing with a painstakingly accurate physics-based simulation of how light behaves.
How does the graphical improvement of ray tracing benefit developers?
For developers, the benefits of ray-tracing are pretty simple. It simply just works. Rather than painstakingly baking in lighting effects and shadows, light sources are placed and ray-tracing simply does the rest of the work. Put a swinging chandelier in a mansion entranced and it will naturally cascade light over a room based upon its material design. Fire an RPG and its flame will light up in the reflection of a car next to you. In the Battlefield V demo, explosions and flames were even reflected on the glistening surface of a soldier’s eyes.
Will every game have ray tracing graphics support?
While the process of developing with RTX is, by all accounts, relatively easy, going back and changing a game to support ray-tracing probably isn’t. Think of it this way: Imagine all those times you go into a cave in a game and you can still find your way around. By rights, these caves should be pitch black, but game developers provide illumination so you can see where you’re going, even if there is no direct light source. With ray-tracing, no light sources would mean total darkness. To support RTX, a game could need additional light sources added, or take advantage of a fusion of ray-tracing and traditional lighting methods.
Now, there’s a plentiful supply of games inbound with ray-tracing support confirmed. However, these are still going to be but a fraction of the total number of games out there. Support will be limited, at least in the short term, although we expect some developers to retrospectively add RTX support to their games.
PC Games With RTX Ray-Tracing Support Confirmed
- Ark: Survival Evolved
- Assetto Corsa Competizione
- Atomic Heart
- Battlefield V
- In Death
- Final Fantasy XV
- The Forge Arena
- Fractured Lands
- Hitman 2
- Mechwarrior V: Mercenaries
- Metro Exodus
- Remnant from the Ashes
- Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- We Happy Few
It’s a graphical advancement that’s very much on a par with the advancement we saw in materials design with the Source Engine prior to the release of Half-Life 2. Used well, RTX looks utterly fantastic. Not all games are going to utilise ray-tracing fantastically though, of course, and I’m sure you’ll agree a few of the videos below look a lot better than the others. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, in particular, looks like a fairly disappointing implementation of Ray Tracing graphics technology, but we will see for ourselves in a few weeks when SOTTR releases on PC.
Ultimately, it’s going to come down to how well and how widely the Ray Tracing graphics technology is going to be implemented through games. Right now, this is what is going to set the GeForce RTX 20 Series GPUs apart from the other graphics cards on the market, and it's pretty much the chief reason to buy one.
It was only a handful of weeks ago that we had an Up For Debate delving into the lack of big technological changes in terms of game visuals. RTX is undoubtedly one of the biggest shifts we've seen in years, and it will assuredly become a standard, making it an exciting prospect for those prepared to stump up the cash for the first generation. Naturally, this technology will shift down over the years though, and we'd expect affordable RTX-capable GPUs by 2020.
We also recently wrote an article covering what gamers are willing to spend on their next graphics card upgrad. With the Nvidia RTX 20 series options starting at $500 then, according to our recent poll, only 24% of gamers would consider upgrading to an Nvidia RTX 2070 or better. With 9% of gamers willing to upgrade to a RTX 2080 or better and just 6% would consider upgrading and paying $1199 for the Founders RTX 2080 Ti.
Battlefield V: Official GeForce RTX Trailer
Control: Official GeForce RTX Trailer
Metro Exodus - Exclusive Gamescom Trailer
Metro Exodus: Official GeForce RTX Video
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Exclusive 4K PC Tech Trailer
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Exclusive Ray Tracing Video
Atomic Heart: Official GeForce RTX Video
Are you impressed by the visual jump offered by ray-tracing, and are you planning to pick up one of Nvidia's new top-end GPUs? Get voting and let us know why below!