The Future of Ray Tracing Has Arrived

Posted on February 15, 2019 by

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Modern-day animations can now have photo-realistic lighting due to a rendering method called Ray Tracing. Ray Tracing traces a path of light as pixels to generate an image based on the surfaces with which the light comes into contact. When the ray of light hits a surface, it can now reflect, refract, scatter, create dispersion, and generate shadow without the need of an engine to tell it to what to do.  This, in turn, simulates light identically to how light works anywhere in the universe.

If you are still having a difficult time understanding, think of it as a reversed eyeball. Light is perceived and emitted from the surface as opposed to a light source. Then lighting calculations go from there. As light bounces off of more surfaces, the greater the detail gets. Ray Tracing is the superior method of rendering light compared to all other methods in all ways but one, speed.

Rendering frames with Ray Tracing takes a lot of computing power and time. On a high end workstation, a single frame can take up to a day to render. This is why Ray Tracing never made it into games until late 2018. In competitive games where every frame and millisecond counts, low frame-rate is detrimental. Now, with Nvidia’s new line of GPUs, real-time Ray Tracing can be supported in games and animating, so Ray Tracing is more practical than ever. Or is it?

Nvidia’s new line of GPUs is titled RTX. From the third quarter of 2018 all the way until January 2019, not that many games have a Ray Tracing feature. If Ray Tracing was something you didn’t care about, RTX has something called DDLS, which stands for Deep Learning Super Sampling. DDLS provides Anti-Aliasing up to 64x for the smoothest way to render the edges of objects and plains. It does this by running the game or animation at a higher resolution than your monitor, then outputs it at its native resolution. There is a catch; not many games and programs have DDLS support. Nvidia plans to help developers get Ray Tracing and DDLS support via driver updates.

The cost of the RTX cards is not pleasant. The RTX 2080 comes in at $799 and the RTX 2080ti comes in at $1199. When the cards are in use, expect them to pull more than 300 watts of power. Upgrading the average 500 watt power supply in most desktop and gaming stations is crucial.

RTX cards have a tremendous amount of potential but not that much practicality. If you have the money to spare, get one because support for Ray Tracing and DDLS will phase in over the next few months or years. Other than that, there is nothing wrong with holding off.

Posted in: Aaron Poper