Realtime ray tracing for work and play comes closer

Unity to add support for DLSS

Kathleen Maher

As a rule, game technology doesn’t get much play at GTC, Nvidia’s technology conference. The company gets enough of that all year round. After this year, we don’t think there’ll be much confusion about what kind of company Nvidia is. It’s a technology company with interests in almost every compute platform: edge, mobile, consoles, PCs, workstations, HPC, the data center, cloud, and don’t forget automobiles.

Nvidia provided this diagram to explain DLSS. If you can see it in spite of the black background and light type, it is informative. (Source: Nvidia)


But, among the important announcements coming out of the conference was one slightly game-y announcement that in the long run might wind up having a lot more to do immersive content development. Unity announced it will be natively supporting Nvidia’s DLSS (deep learning super sampling) in their game engine. 

Mathieu Muller talks about Unity’s support for Nvidia’s DLSS. (Source: Nvidia)


DLSS, as you know, is the latest evolution of Nvidia’s use of AI to speed ray tracing. It takes a lower resolution frame and performs ray tracing operations on it, then the AI goes to work scaling up the image to the desired high resolution. Thus, games can have real-time ray tracing at high resolutions without suffering an impact on their frame rates that’s proportional to the imaging, which is a long way around saying DLSS provides more rendering bang for the buck. The technology takes advantage of Nvidia’s dedicated Tensor cores. Nvidia says they built a supercomputer to train the DLSS deep neural net to know what high-quality, high-resolution rendered images should look like. They use 16K offline rendered images of all kinds of content for machine learning. This approach has given DLSS 2.0 an edge with game developers because it enables the use of  DLSS without having to optimize the machine learning on images specific to the game. It’s trained on generalized images, like a whole lot of cars and other objects that are likely to turn up in-game content.

Unity has been on the path to advanced rendering capabilities with its High-Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) in Unity 2021.2. Developers will be able to further beef up those capabilities with Unity’s DLSS support coming before the end of the year. Unity and Nvidia say it will be just a matter of a few clicks to add Nvidia’s DLSS to their content. At GTC 2021, Unity senior product manager Matthieu Muller took part in the announcement and showed how Light Brick Studio put DLSS in their game Lego Builder’s Journey.

Epic added support for DLSS as a plug-in for Unreal Engine earlier in the year, and news has escalated that Nintendo’s next console, the one that will use an Nvidia chip, will incorporate DLSS 2.0 as well. Bloomberg reported the story last March. Nintendo is not big on official announcements, but there’ve been enough leaks even before Bloomberg’s story to draw a picture of a new Nintendo console with OLED and support for 4K.

So, what do we have? The two major game engines signing on to DLSS 2.0 and the highly-anticipated next Nintendo is one the way with DLSS … probably. AMD has committed to taking on advanced rendering techniques and high-resolution graphics, but it’s a bit behind Nvidia as it goes the open-source route. The company’s first take on the challenge is FidelityFX introduced in 2019, which is being constantly updated, most recently with Variable Shading Denoiser and Parallel Sort. They’re promising more to come. AMD says FidelityFX is available in some form in over 35 games today.

Without a doubt, games are going to get more beautiful with advanced effects soon. Some are estimating as soon as 2022 because Nvidia has simplified the use of DLSS 2.0 as a game engine plug-in.

What do we think?

It’s been argued that beauty is wasted on gamers, who just want to leap the next barrel and kill the next irradiated zombie, which is probably true. But, the value of beauty is about more than softening the heart hardened by constant high-stress levels; it’s about verisimilitude.

The truth is a requirement for design and engineering and those are the customers who are willing to pay for their pixels.

Unity and Unreal are looking at being in the pipeline for design, engineering, movie making, viz-sim. Game engines want to be where there is visualization.