Ever since NVIDIA introduced its Turing GPU lineup, featuring both hardware accelerated ray-tracing and AI-based DLSS upscaling, AMD’s been on the back foot, hard at work building feature parity into both high-end PC hardware and the next-gen consoles.
With the RDNA2 architecture, AMD’s implemented hardware accelerated ray-tracing on both consoles via its Ray Accelerator (RA) modules. This means that, in games like Metro Exodus where ray-tracing is an option, AMD hardware (at least technically) can offer feature parity. This is just one half of the equation, and the reason NVIDIA debuted DLSS upscaling alongside ray-tracing. Current-gen graphics cards, whether on PC or in consoles, are simply not powerful enough to handle ray-traced workloads at a native 4K resolution. The way things stand now, cards like the GeForce RTX 3080 and RX 6800 XT – both of which are considerably more powerful than the GPUs in either the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 – are just about able to deliver a consistent 4K/60 FPS experience in most AAA rasterized titles.
On the NVIDIA side of the fence, DLSS is a must-enable feature if you’re running tracing, clawing back most of the performance you lose, while actually enhancing image quality in some cases. With DLSS 2.0 in Performance mode, many ray-traced titles deliver 4K/60 or something close to it.
AMD, on the other hand, currently offers no such option. If you turn on ray-tracing on RDNA2 cards or on the consoles, performance and resolution are the only available levels to pull. This is set to change soon, however. AMD announced its own take on AI upscaling, Fidelity FX Super Resolution, months back, alongside the debut of the RDNA2 cards. Since both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X share the same GPU architecture as the RX 6800 XT and co, Super Resolution will almost certainly make its way over to consoles. AMD has offered precious little further input, however, about how Fidelity FX Super Resolution works, what image quality looks like, and the performance impact. We should hear more in the months to come. But before that, let’s take a look at the potential implications of AI upscaling for the current crop of consoles.
The possible end of upscaling as we know it
Both ninth generation consoles are massively powerful devices. However, neither is quite up to the task of delivering a flawless 4K/60 FPS experience in most of today’s AAA titles. And as we move out of the eighth-gen transition period, hardware requirements will only increase, not decrease.
Case in point? The Medium on the Xbox Series X. It’s fair to say that this isn’t a very well optimized game. However, the dual-world gameplay element can be very performance intensive when combined with ray-traced reflections. The only way Bloober Team managed to maintain reasonable performance on the Xbox Series X is by dropping resolution as low as 900p in those areas – almost ⅛ native 4K. Even the most advanced temporal upscaling techniques are limited when confronted with such a profound lack of pixels. As a result, image quality in The Medium on Series X ranges from acceptable to absolutely terrible. On PC, however, RTX series owners have the option of enabling DLSS. In performance mode, the GeForce RTX 3080 is able to stick closely to 4K/60 FPS, albeit with some dips into the 40 FPS range. It’s not ideal. However, image quality is a night-and-day improvement, despite DLSS upscaling from a 1080p base image.
This is the single biggest game changer we see if and when AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution debuts on console: developers will no longer need to resort to conventional upscaling techniques when performance limited. They can leverage Super Resolution to deliver great image quality without sacrificing performance or high-impact visual features like ray-tracing.
On the Sony side of things, games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales stand to benefit tremendously. With ray-tracing disabled, Miles Morales manages to deliver a 4K/60 experience, albeit with periodic dynamic resolution dips below. In the ray-tracing “fidelity” mode, you get a native 4K output, but only at 30 FPS. A ray-tracing performance mode does exist, but comes at a sharp cost in terms of resolution and even features like pedestrian density. Basically, native 4K/60 FPS is off the table on consoles when ray-tracing is enabled. FidelityFX Super Resolution could make this a moot point, however. If it offers image quality that at least approaches DLSS 2.0 in Performance mode, Super Resolution could enable developers to add in lavish ray-tracing and other high-end technical features without worrying about hitting a native 4K resolution target. This is a real “have your cake and eat it, too” situation. In upcoming games like Gran Turismo 7, that make extensive use of ray-tracing alongside high quality core assets, Super Resolution could be the key to great image quality and great overall visuals.
There is another way Super Resolution could change things: it could turn the Xbox Series S into a viable 4K machine. While Microsoft has heavily promoted the Series S as a 1440p or even 1080p machine, the fact is that the Xbox Series S can (and does) run a limited number of games at native 4K, such as Ori and the Will of the Wisp. Super Resolution could allow developers the option to offer native 4K output on the Series S across a wider range of games.
Implementation could be a game changer – or a dealbreaker
Right now, one of the biggest drawbacks to AMD’s Super Resolution feature is just how little we know about it. We don’t know how it works at a technical level (though tipsters hint that it’s a shader-based solution, much like “DLSS 1.9” in Control.) We don’t know when it’s coming out, and we don’t know about how in-game integration will work, apart from the fact that it’ll be cross-platform. AMD’s vague statements indicate that Super Resolution could even work on NVIDIA cards – though whether those need to be recent RTX cards or if it works on older parts remains to be seen.
From a console perspective, the biggest question here is just how difficult (or easy) will it be for developers to enable Super Resolution? Currently, adding DLSS 2.0 to games requires quite a bit of time for integration. The process is a whole lot easier than it was with DLSS 1.0 (which was trained on a per-game basis). However, it’s still a non-negligible amount of work which means that not all new titles ship with the feature. If Super Resolution is truly cross-platform as AMD claims and if it’s easy to integrate, we could see most (or even all) console titles ship with the feature replacing dynamic resolution scaling. If it’s harder to implement, we might see it limited to a smaller selection of AMD-sponsored titles.
AMD’s certainly taking its time to bring FidelityFX Super Resolution to the market. However, the little we know about the tech (that its cross-platform, likely shader-based, and will work on consoles) is nothing but good news for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S owners. If FidelityFX Super Resolution is easy to implement and delivers a genuine boost to image quality, it could be the transformative “secret sauce” that’ll help this generation of consoles stay relevant as performance-sapping ray-tracing becomes more and more important.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.