What is Nvidia's DLSS technology?

It’s a term you’ve probably seen numerous times so far this generation, but what actually is Nvidia’s DLSS technology? And more importantly, what does it mean for video games?

Firstly, what does DLSS stand for? DLSS is an acronym for deep learning super sampling. It’s a fancy upscaling technique that allows video games to run at a lower internal resolution, while displaying at a higher resolution. The deep learning actually refers to AI technology that upscales the image to make it appear at a higher resolution - but more on that shortly. 

As it stands, Nvidia’s DLSS technology is only available on the RTX 20 and 30 series of cards. Even those lucky PC owners who have a 30 series, can only use the technology across a handful of games as it is something which needs to be coded and optimised in.

How does it work?

The AI in DLSS is based on a neural network which is trained by Nvidia to render ‘ideal’ images of video games from both low and ultra-high resolution images. The result of this is then stored on the video card driver, which will compare the low-resolution image with the reference image and produce a high resolution result.

What this does in practise is reduce the performance cost of running games at 4k resolution, which is a major performance hit on even the most up-to-date graphics cards.  Enabling DLSS allows titles like Cyberpunk 2077 to run at a 4k resolution, but without the hit in performance. In some titles, this is the only way to hit 60fps with 4k and ray-tracing on. 

DLSS Cyberpunk
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As we’ve already mentioned, the DLSS technology currently only runs on Nvidia 20 and 30 series cards. This is because the cards include unique Tensor Cores, which house the AI drivers needed to run DSLL.

Ray tracing 

DLSS is an especially useful technique when used in conjunction with ray tracing. Arguably one of the most common buzz words of this current generation. Ray tracing is a hyper-realistic light rendering technique that tracks light as pixels. The result is realistic real-time lighting and reflections, which can look almost photorealistic.

DLSS ray tracing
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This all comes at a cost to performance though. Ray tracing is currently one of the most demanding visual options in games, which is why only a few games and graphics cards can run the setting. Fortunately, DLSS negates the performance cost by reducing the internal resolution, meaning your system can use those additional resources towards ray tracing.

Are there any downsides?

DLSS isn’t perfect. It is, after all, an AI approximation of how the image should look. This means that games can sometimes look a little muddy or blurry compared to the native image. It isn’t a major issue, but it might be a little too blurry to someone who aspects high pixel density in their gaming experiences.

While this has mostly improved with the release of Nvidia DLSS 2.0, there are still problems. 2.0 can produce ghosting issues with certain assets, so it can cause quite visible artifacting in some games.

The biggest issue with DLSS at the moment is that it is not more widely available. Since its initial release in 2018, DLSS has featured in 46 different titles, including the likes of; Cyberpunk 2077, Watch Dogs: Legion, Monster Hunter: World and Nioh 2. 

Should I use it in my game?

Using DLSS is something that depends entirely on your preference in games. If you want to run games at 4k or 1440p with all the graphical settings turned to high, it would probably make sense for you to turn it on. If you're quite happy running your games at 1080p and within the confines of what your graphics card can achieve, then DLSS probably isn’t for you.

DLSS is great for people (like me for example) who are running an RTX 2060, which is the weakest card in the 20 series lineup. DLSS empowers weaker graphics cards with the ability to run games at a better frame rate and resolution. It could even let some users run games that they wouldn’t typically be able to without DLSS, so it’s definitely worth considering if you are having trouble. 

An industry game changer 

Nvidia DLSS is perhaps one of the most interesting features to emerge from this current generation of technology. As the technology continues to improve, it will offer gamers at all levels the ability to run their games with far better performance. 

In an industry that is often so focused on providing premium experiences at a cost, Nvidia DLSS levels that playing field, if only slightly. 

DLSS is also set to change console gaming as well. A number of rumours concerning the Switch Pro point towards the upgraded handheld utlising Nvidia's DLSS technology to reach 4k resolutions. So not only will PC gamers reap the benefits of the upscaling AI, but so too will Nintendo Switch owners. What a time to be alive.

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