An AMD patent filing from 2017 that was recently made public shows AMD exploring the implementation of variable rate shading (VRS) technology in its next-generation GPUs. Although the patent doesn’t specify which future architecture will get it, there’s a good chance AMD will try to have the technology built into its upcoming Navi GPUs, considering Nvidia has already integrated VRS into its latest Turing architecture.
What Is Variable Rate Shading?
As the resolution of monitors, TVs and virtual reality (VR) headsets keeps increasing, GPUs have hardly been able to keep up. The 4K / UHD resolution has exactly four times the pixels of the 1080p resolution, and 8K has four times more pixels than 4K. Meanwhile, each new generation of GPUs has shown an annual increase in performance of only 20-30 percent.
GPUs running 4K games would normally need to increase their performance by at least four times compared to when running 1080p games, if all else remains the same. However, the VRS technique allows game developers to implement some shortcuts that can lead to a significant increase in performance when using it in games played at ultra high resolutions.
VRS resolves certain sections of a frame in full detail (like the center of the screen, on which your eyes tend to focus) and reduces the detail on other parts of the frame to lower the rendering load. In other words, the shading in the game will happen at a variable rate (thus the “variable rate shading” name).
VRS Coming to Navi?
AMD hasn’t stated that this technology will be made available in the company’s upcoming Navi GPUs, which doesn't have an official release date still. However, considering that Nvidia has already implemented VRS in Turing, it’s possible AMD may implement it soon, too, as chances are the two companies started working on VRS roughly at the same time.
VRS may be most useful to VR-enabled games, as well as consoles that support VR gaming. The Navi architecture is rumored to be used in the next-generation PlayStation, whose games could benefit from the VRS support if Sony intends to once again pair its new console with a next-generation VR headset.