Why Nvidia’s Newly Announced RTX Consumer Graphics Cards Changes Everything
For those who have not heard the news, Nvidia has announced a new series of graphic cards; the RTX 2070, RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti. The new graphics cards are using the new Turing architecture instead of the now defunct, Pascal architecture of only one generation.
The new Turing architecture is not only more powerful, but a lot more powerful. Based on Nvidia’s presentation which can be found here, the new video cards are approximately 6 times more powerful then the last generation! What is truly astounding, is the fact that for the first time, computers are capable of doing “real time ray tracing”. I believe that real time ray tracing is the next great leap in video game technology for many reasons, and I will try to explain as clearly as possible.
I am no graphic designer or game developer, but I will try to explain simply how current graphics are made. Currently, graphics are made utilizing a technique called rasterization. Rasterization is simply taking 3d objects and flattening the appearance onto a 2d plane, such as on our screens. The issue is that the colors of the objects and the effects in the scene are not brought along, only the outlines of the objects. For this reason, all colors and effects that we normally see in real life need a completely separate technique to make them more life-like. Whether it is adding a global light in a game environment, or simply baking textures onto a model, these techniques can allow for creations which have high fidelity, but are still not entirely realistic even when made by the best designers. The reason that rasterization is used, is because of how much less resources it needs comparative to real time ray tracing.
Real time ray tracing is extremely taxing, as it has its origins in how our eyes actual perceive the world. Light bounces around our world from everywhere and the small percentage of light rays that actually reach our eye balls tell us what we are seeing. It is currently impossible to process anything like that, but there is a technique, which is called, as I am sure you have guessed, real time ray tracing, which flips the paradigm upside-down. Instead of light bouncing around all over the world to finally reach our eye balls, real time ray tracing sends out a signal to bounce around the environment so as to figure out what the screen should output for us to view. This technique allows for a scene to appear much more life-like, then rasterization.
For many years, real time ray tracing had been an unreachable goal for modern personal computers, and only supercomputers could even attempt it. With Nvidia’s new announcement, everything has changed. As someone who believes video games are a form of art, I would like to be audacious and compare real time ray tracing to the art of Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo is well known for the Mona Lisa, but he was also very interested in how we perceive the world. He had an unusually good skill for observing the world and when almost all other artist were creating hard outlines in their art, he was using a technique called sfumato. Sfumato is a technique which gradually softens the transition between colors and is one component of what makes Leonardo’s art so extraordinary. It just seems real. Another reason his art seems so realistic, is because of how knowledgeable he was on how we view shadows and the reflections of light on different surfaces. If you want a more detailed explanation of the genius that is Leonardo Da Vinci, I highly recommend reading Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. The knowledge that he had, helped him create extraordinary works of art. Such art in video games was practically impossible with rasterization. With real time real tracing, it has become possible.
The new graphics cards will not be doing full real time ray tracing, as they re not quite so powerful, but they will be faking the effect using artificial intelligence which is the other great technological advance of this age. To be able to make this possible, rasterization and ray tracing will be used in parallel as they both have there strengths and weaknesses. Then after a quick real time ray tracing, the AI will kick in to finish around the same time as the rasterization. As such, our scene will be rendered with shadows that appear gradual instead of outlined, reflections will show in a scene even if the cause of the reflection is off the screen, lighting will fill a room naturally, etc.
I believe that the art form of game design will be re-envisioned, because of this RTX(real time ray tracing). I would be crazy though if I did not have some hesitations with the new technology. Games will need to allow for the technology and as the current markets works today, if a game developers decides to work with AMD instead of Nvidia, it may not come with the RTX capabilities. This will segregate games between the haves and have-nots which is never a good thing for consumers. As it is the first generation, I am worried whether developers will actually buy in. Based on the presentation, I do not believe that will be an issue, as Unreal Engine has worked closely with Nvidia to implement RTX and other major game developers are right along for the ride.
The one thing I have not brought up yet is the price. The current prices are $499 USD for the RTX 2070, $699 for the RTX 2080 and $999 for the RTX 2080 Ti. At these prices, they are still out of reach for many individuals. Do I see this as being an issue? Currently, no. Knowing Nvidia, I expect a RTX 2060 or even a RTX 2050 to be announced in a few months. The reason for this, is that it just makes sense. The people who are going to buy the currently announced cards are the hardcore fans. Such people do not care about price as much and Nvidia will reap back their investment in the Turing architecture. After a few months, I feel confident that we will see an RTX 2050 or RTX 2060 to outright corner the graphic card market. I do not believe that AMD or even Intel who is set to announce a new graphics card within the next year, will be close to compete. Nvidia currently has a major lead over AMD and AMD is having a hard time catching up to the Pascal architecture. With such a lead, Nvidia can sit tight before announcing a lower price RTX card and continue selling the GTX 1060 for those people who do not have money to splurge for the best.
I honestly can’t wait to get my hands on one, though It may be a year before I can. Hopefully my explanation was clear and concise and I would love to hear what anyone else thinks on the RTX cards. You can pre-order the new RTX graphic cards here.