What is Ray tracing? Everything you need to know

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Ray tracing is becoming more commonplace as time goes on, with high-end GPUs and the next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles boasting this premium feature. But what is ray tracing, and how can it impact your game’s performance?

In this guide, we’re going to run through what ray tracing is and why it’s important, as well as how it can affect the quality of video games. And if you happen to own the right hardware, we’re going to explain how you can get this feature up and running, and what games actually support the software.

So, without wasting any more time, here is everything you need to know about ray tracing.

What is ray tracing?

Ray tracing is a technique that helps make games more realistic, as it better emulates the way that light reflects and interacts in the real world, thus making games more immersive.

It works by simulating real light rays and using an algorithm to trace the path that actual light would take in the real world, which allows developers to better simulate how light bounces off objects and create realistic shadows. This results in more realistic scenes overall, with characters and NPCs interacting more naturally with the world.

What GPUs support ray tracing?

While we know that both new consoles have support for ray tracing, there are multiple options when it comes to your GPU. The Nvidia RTX 3050 offers support for ray tracing at a cheaper price than ever before, allowing gamers to experience ray tracing at 1080p. It also has support for DLSS, which is an Nvidia RTX feature that uses artificial intelligence to boost a game’s framerate.

The Ampere generation of ray tracing cards includes the RTX 3000 series, which is made up of the RTX 3060, RTX 3060 Ti, RTX 3070, RTX 3070 Ti, RTX 3080, RTX 3080 Ti and the RTX 3090.

However, Nvidia is set to announce several new GPUs during its latest September GTC 2022 Keynote event, which will take over from the RTX 3000 series. The latest series will be the Nvidia RTX 4000, codenamed Lovelace, which is expected to include the RTX 4070, RTX 4080 and RTX 4090.

While nothing has been confirmed yet, we are expecting the Lovelace GPUs to have ray tracing capabilities, since they are expected to pack a 5nm node compared to its predecessor’s 8nm node, allowing the company to include even more transistors which should ensure better performance.

We will be sure to update you on the ray tracing capabilities of the Nvidia RTX 4000 series when they are announced, but we would expect that the performance will outpace the RTX 3000 series, which should allow them to provide a smoother experience for gamers who want to use ray tracing while gaming.

The RTX GPUs feature hardware called Tensor Cores and RT Cores, which are needed to make real-time ray tracing work as efficiently as possible. Nvidia also invited the term ‘Giga Rays’, which refers to how successful the racy tracing performance of the GPU is.

Nvidia claims that five Giga Rays per second is the minimum amount of virtual light ideally required to fully illuminate a typical room in a video game environment. The RTX 2070 offers the standard five Giga Rays per second, but if you upgrade to 2080, it offers eight Giga Rays per second, with the 2080 Ti capping out at 10 Giga Rays per second.

AMD also offers up ray tracing solutions, with the AMD Radeon 6000 series being the brand’s first attempt at implementing the technology. The company is a little further behind when compared to Nvidia, seeing as the GPUs are still in their first generation.

You can find ray tracing support in several AMD cards, though not as many as Nvidia, including the RX 6600 XT, RX 6700 XT, RX 6800, RX 6800 XT and RX 6900 XT.

Unlike Nvidia, AMD does not have a dedicated set of hardware cores, instead, AMD GPUs use hardware cores that handle the ray tracing while also performing other functions at the same time; AMD refers to these as Ray Accelerators.

The company also has a solution to Nvidia’s DLSS: FSR 2.0. This is the second generation of FSR and should help bridge the gap between Nvidia and AMD since Nvidia has historically won out in terms of image quality as it uses machine learning to enhance its visuals.

Plus, Sony is now working on accelerated ray tracing, which will remove pressure from its graphics chip in the PS5 while also reducing the rendering time on shaded visuals. This could allow for ray tracing to be turned on without compromising the frame rate or the top solution, which should also enable more games to utilise the feature.

Is ray tracing worth it?

Ray tracing has come a long way since it first launched in Battlefield 5, with multiple games now supporting the technology. Ray tracing did really excel in this game, with mountain ranges being visible in the reflection of the frozen lake and flames glinting off the metallic surfaces of the guns.

Seeing as GPUs that boast the technology are getting cheaper and more abundant, and next-generation consoles are making ray tracing more accessible and less demanding, it seems that within the next few years ray tracing will be available to most gamers.

While the level of detail that ray tracing brings is impressive, it is also not essential for every game. The makers of Forza Horizon 5 specifically only implemented ray tracing in one section of the game, claiming that the benefit of ray tracing would be lost during the racing sections of the game and it would actually hinder the quality of the visuals overall.

The worthwhileness of ray tracing depends on both the setup you have and what game you’re planning on playing. If you have a high-end GPU that won’t struggle effectively implementing ray tracing, you likely won’t see other aspects of your game falter as result. And a game like Minecraft, which already doesn’t put much pressure on a GPU, can successfully utilise ray tracing to create more realistic lighting effects and significantly improve the visuals, all while being noticeable to the consumer.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X offer reliable solutions for ray tracing since both consoles do generally prioritise stability over high performance while still giving the option for ray tracing in certain games.

We would suggest that any gamers who are curious about ray tracing check out their own internals and see if their current set-up is viable, especially if they are interested in a title that already supports ray tracing and won’t put too much strain on their PC. For anyone else who is interested but is unsure about looking at GPUs, both the next-generation Sony and Microsoft consoles are dependable devices that offer ray tracing across multiple games.

Which games support ray tracing?

More games than ever now support ray tracing technology, with both AMD and Nvidia having solutions as well as mainstream consoles. Not every PC or console game will support the technology though, with some games also only allowing the feature in certain modes or sections of a game.

The list of PC games that support ray tracing is as follows:

While this is not a conclusive list of all the PC games that support ray tracing, the number is high and still growing, which may be enough of an incentive for some gamers to take the leap and purchase a GPU capable of ray tracing.

For console gamers, here is the list of all the PS5 games that support ray tracing:

And here are all the Xbox Series X games:

Bright Memory: Infinite Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold WarCall of the SeaChorus Control: Ultimate Edition Cyberpunk 2077Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition Doom Eternal Enlisted Fortnite Forza Motorsport Gears 5 Halo Infinite Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrafice Hitman 3 Maneater Metro Exodus: Enhanced Edition Minecraft NBA 2K21Observer: System Redux Poker Club Resident Evil Village RIDE 4 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2The Medium Watch Dogs: Legion

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