Why NVIDIA Reflex is PC's next big step in delivering unparalleled performance

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We’ve spoken about the importance of frame rates on numerous occasions at Stealth Optional. While consoles have always typically chased better fidelity and higher resolutions, PC gaming has always been about playing games at a higher frame rate. 

It would appear the industry is taking note. The latest batch of consoles all support gaming at higher frames, and high-refresh rate gaming monitors are now more affordable than ever before. 

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So, why are frames important? Simply put, higher refresh rate results in reduced input lag. This is because higher number of frames effectively allows your PC to better compute and feedback what is happening in-game. 

Playing at a higher frame rate with more consistent frames per second comes at the cost of, well, cost. It’s not cheap to build a PC that runs all the latest releases at frames in the hundreds. Fortunately, NVIDIA has the answer in the form of NVIDIA Reflex. 

We spoke to NVIDIA’s GeForce Esports Product Manager, Seth Schneider about NVIDIA Reflex. What it is, how it works and ultimately, why gamers should be excited about the technology.

What is it, and how does it work?

Marketing talk and big promises aside, NVIDIA Reflex essentially creates a level playing field for competitive gaming. By changing and optimising visual quality, gamers on lower-performing PC can see big increases in frame performance. Schneider describes the software as: "A suite of technologies that optimizes and measures system latency. Latency is the time that passes between when you click the mouse to fire and when that click registers with the display or screen.

"And lower is better. Lower system latency enables players to perform their best - allowing them to acquire targets faster, react quicker, and increase aim precision. Improved latency can be achieved by simply enabling NVIDIA Reflex in a game’s settings.”

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Lower certainly is better. We've discussed game latency and frame performance in the past. Lower latency in a game minimises the time between player input and the action being shown on screen. The lower that time, the quicker a player is able to perform a certain action. NVIDIA is so keen on gamers squeezing those extra frames out that it also included an ultra low-latency mod which reduces rendering latency by almost 50%.

"Reflex’s Low Latency Mode aligns game engine work to complete just-in-time for rendering, eliminating the GPU render queue and reducing CPU back pressure in GPU intensive scenes.”

NVIDIA is also changing the way we measure and record latency. Previously it took expensive external equipment to record latency in video games. A great example can be found in this Linus Tech Tips video from a few years ago.

“A Latency Analyzer detects clicks coming from the mouse and then measures the time it takes for the resulting pixels (for example, a gun muzzle flash) to change on screen. Measuring system latency has previously been extremely difficult to do, requiring over $7,000 in specialized high-speed cameras and equipment. Head over to the Reflex Latency Analyzer compatible page to see all Reflex compatible displays and mice.”

Why is latency important? How does it provide PC gamers an advantage over consoles?

Turning on low latency mode will not make someone an esports star overnight, but at a certain skill-level, those latency gains are going to make a vast difference. Something Schneider was keen to point out. NVIDIA Reflex also further bridges the gap between what PC is capable of against consoles.

“Based on our research, it turns out that latency is a key factor that contributes to aiming performance. Lower latency enables players to be more precise and acquire targets faster. On PC, gamers can play at higher frame rates, use faster monitors, and use features like NVIDIA Reflex to reduce latency below what the consoles are capable of.”

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Supporting Reflex going forward

It's fair to say NVIDIA's focus remains with esports on the release of Reflex. Supporting 7 of the 10 most popular shooters on the market, it makes sense for the company to target the scene where players are going to see the most benefit.

“We can’t announce new features for our partners, but Reflex is a big hit. The games that support NVIDIA Reflex are a who's who of first-person shooters including Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Warzone, Destiny 2, Fortnite, and Overwatch, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Valorant and more.”

CoD Warzone DirectX

You can find the full list here.

As the gap continues to grow between PC and console, the question of fair play does need to be addressed. Schneider is keen to emphasise that there are numerous factors affecting play skills in competitive play.

“In nearly all sports — golf, racing, football, etc — the right gear can help competitors achieve their full potential. The same is true for esports. Better GPUs, displays, and peripherals can help you respond more quickly and precisely to opponents.”

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"Based on our published research, lower latency enables gamers to be more precise and accurate in aiming tasks."

60hz, 120hz, 360hz, what’s the difference?

To some, the numbers between different refresh rates just sounds like a collection of numbers. Technical jargon aside, those numbers do represent major differences.

“360Hz is a significant upgrade compared to 120Hz. It’s 3x the amount of frames that can be presented to the gamer per second and has lower latency than a 120Hz display. For esports gamers looking to optimize their setups, 360Hz is a great option. Check out our latency optimization guide here.”

Which NVIDIA GPUs support Reflex?

Unlike NVIDIA's popular RTX technology, Reflex is available on a wider range of GPU cards. The software can run on GPUs that are now over seven years old.

“NVIDIA Reflex supports the GTX 900 Series and higher GPUs in DirectX based games and GTX 10 Series and higher GPUs in Vulkan based games. In fact, latency gains are typically higher for lower end hardware.”

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What are some common mistakes people make in reducing latency, and what tips do you have?

As one of the key members of the team, we couldn't help but wonder if Schneider had any insight on how gamers can optimise their PCs for better performance.

“Some common mistakes gamers make is keeping VSYNC ON or using borderless full-screen mode. Both settings can significantly increase system latency. Keeping your game in full screen, disabling VSYNC, and turning on NVIDIA Ultra Low Latency in the control panel are great ways to reduce system latency. “

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“Optimizing latency can be very challenging since every aspect of PC performance is factored into the equation. To help gamers optimize for latency, we have written a latency optimization guide that walks through the pipeline and provides great suggestions for optimizing system latency. 

At the time of writing, NVIDIA Reflex is already available across a number of games, with more planned to release in the future. Whether you're into esports, or simply want to improve gaming performance, it's hard not to be excited by Reflex and the possibilities it presents.

Read More: Why more frames matter for competitive Rocket League