If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve probably heard the term DLSS and FSR. But what does it mean, and why is it suddenly so popular?
What is DLSS?
DLSS (an acronym for Deep Learning Super Sampling) is an Nvidia RTX feature that uses artificial intelligence to boost a game’s framerate performance higher when your GPU is struggling with intensive gaming workloads.
When using DLSS, your GPU is effectively generating an image at a lower resolution to lessen the strain on your hardware. Then it adds additional pixels to upscale the picture to your desired resolution, using AI smarts in order to determine what the final image should look like.
As any seasoned PC gamer knows, tasking a GPU with a lower resolution results in a significant frame rate boost, so you’re getting the best of both worlds – high frame rates and high resolution – with DLSS.
DLSS is currently only available on Nvidia RTX graphics cards (both the 20-Series and 30-Series). However, AMD has recently launched FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution) which provides a very similar service.
Does DLSS reduce visual quality?
When DLSS initially launched, many gamers spotted that the upscaled picture often looked blurry, and wasn’t as detailed as the native picture.
However, Nvidia has since launched DLSS 2.0, which has seemingly fixed this issue. Nvidia now claims it “offers image quality comparable to native resolution.”
What is FSR?
FSR (which stands for FidelityFX Super Resolution) is an AMD feature that has a similar objective as DLSS, which means it helps to boost a game’s framerate performance when your GPU is struggling with intensive games.
But unlike DLSS, it doesn’t require machine learning, specific training routes for each game, or a special-purpose logic within the GPU. Instead, it uses simple spatial upscaling, so it can work on a variety of hardware.
Spatial image processing uses neighbouring pixels for the higher resolution image sent to the display, resulting in a clearer image for us to see. It also compensates for ray tracing by enhancing the image quality and improving framerates for slower graphics cards.
FSR supports a large range of GPUs, from both AMD and Nvidia. The PS5 and Xbox Series X have also been confirmed to support the technology.
DLSS and FSR are the future of PC games
Back when Nvidia first revealed the GeForce RTX 2080 and showed the world what DLSS is and what it would do, it seemed like a good way to get more budget-oriented systems able to use the new-fangled ray tracing tech it debuted at the same time. Especially because the first iteration of Nvidia’s AI upscaling tech wasn’t exactly phenomenal it seemed to play second fiddle to a lot of other tech the company was pushing.
However, with the advent of the games generation brought about by the PS5 and Xbox Series X, there’s a greater demand for visually rich games, loaded with ray tracing and otherwise complicated visuals. There’s nothing I like more than a gorgeous gorgeous video game, but games have become way harder to run in just the last couple of years.
Even the RTX 2080 Ti, a graphics card that was an unstoppable 4K behemoth a few years ago, has become a 1080p GPU in most modern games that support ray tracing. And as the best PC games continue to get more complicated it’s becoming more essential for them to include either DLSS or AMD’s alternative – FidelityFX Super Resolution, or FSR.
A link to the past of DLSS and FSR
Going back 10 years or so, when we were trying to get our PCs to play Crysis or Metro 2033 or The Witcher 2, there were so many times that I just settled for 40 fps – and that was at 1080p. Playing at a rocky frame rate was just something you accepted because in order to even theoretically get 60 fps at high settings you’d have to start toying with multiple GPU setups or lowering the resolution and deal with a fuzzy image.
Even then, when you had the resources for a sick Crossfire or SLI setup and were able to hit a solid 60 fps, you were at the mercy of jittery frame times, as the connection between the two graphics cards didn’t have enough bandwidth to seamlessly and smoothly play games without a ton of work from developers and the graphics card manufacturers themselves.
Back in the days when a lot of games were coming out as PC exclusives and were able to really reach for the skies in terms of graphics without having to worry about console compatibility, settling for sub-par performance was just a fact of life. And trying to push as close to 60 fps as you could and brag to your friends about how well you were able to run a game with the new graphics card you just bought.
And, with how hard games are to run right now, we could be in another era just like that. Especially with how hard 4K gaming is marketed right now – even though many people haven’t moved beyond 1080p – there are so many games out right now that no one would be able to max out until the next generation of graphics cards came out.
But now that upscaling has blown up in such a huge way, no one has to suffer through the low framerates and weird jittery frame times that we had to deal with in the early 2000s and 2010s. It’s made PC gaming a lot easier to deal with in general. It’s just a shame that the increased accessibility this generation has been met by inflated prices for hardware.
Will it continue?
Both the GeForce RTX 3000 and Radeon RX 6000 series of graphics cards are the first generations to come out in this “next generation” of games. It’s only natural for these cards to start to struggle as games are designed to take on more advanced hardware, and it’s likely that the next generation of PC hardware is going to be able to hit high frame rates at high resolutions without necessarily needing upscaling to do it.
That’s likely why Nvidia has started pushing tech like DLDSR as well as DLSS. DLDSR, or Deep Learning Dynamic Super Resolution, is the tensor-core powered version of DSR, something that already exists in the Nvidia Control Panel, where you can render a game at a higher resolution and then scale it down to your native resolution. This makes your game prettier and smoother-looking but will absolutely decimate performance.
The deep learning version of this is more efficient than brute forcing it through your regular shaders but it’s still going to impact performance. So, it doesn’t make much sense now, in a few years once, say, the RTX 4080 or RTX 5080 comes out, playing around with tech that makes games harder to run but prettier might start to make a lot of sense.
While DLSS is limited to Nvidia GPUs 20 series and up, AMD’s FSR and Nvidia’s NIS are more open solutions. AMD’s FSR is open to a wide variety of cards, including 10 series Nvidia GPUs. FSR doesn’t use AI and is instead based on a complex set of algorithms. There are several settings for DLSS and FSR.
As for DLSS, ultra performance mode basically matched FSR performance mode with a 178% increase in fps. DLSS performance mode likewise matched FSR balanced mode at 121% higher fps, while DLSS balanced mode gave a 91% improvement and even quality mode boosted framerates by 63%.
FSR works on many graphics cards, and is not restricted to the latest generation. … AMD FSR, surprisingly, will also be compatible with Nvidia cards since it it’s an open platform, starting from the 10 and 16 series to the latest RTX 30-series.
It’s a hardware level feature. DLSS 2.0 uses the tensor core of RTX GPU from NVidia to reconstruct an image at high resolution from a much lower one. At quality setting, the gain of performances is much lower then at performances level because the starting resolution is higher.
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