It's the moment we've all been waiting for: Nvidia has been the exclusive maker of hardware-accelerated ray tracing graphics, and we've all been waiting for AMD to join the party. That's not quite happening today, but with Microsoft's Xbox Series X and Sony's PlayStation 5 supporting the technology on RDNA 2 hardware, it's only a matter of time before we start seeing RDNA 2 hardware for PCs. In light of that, AMD released a one minute tech demo of what this may look like on its upcoming graphics architecture.
The demo is made possible by the new DirectX 12 Ultimate API, which, among other features, adds support for DirectX Raytracing 1.1 in the DXR API. Currently only Nvidia's GPUs support the API, but that will change when AMD's RDNA 2 graphics cards land in the consumer market.
Say of the demo what you will. We don't think it's the kind of art that we'd like to see in a game, because frankly... Mirror mirror on the wall...
However, the sheer abundance of mirrors, glass, polished metals, and other reflective surfaces do make for a very demanding tech demo. As developers, you can optimize all you want, but having that many reflective surfaces in a scene and smoothly running raytracing on it is an accomplishment to be proud of.
The demo does appear to run slightly choppy, though. We downloaded the video and slowly clicked through it, counting a framerate of around 26 FPS, with most frames (on the 1080p60 file) being repeated two or three times, sometimes more. That explains the stutter, but we're not sure whether it's because of the demo being very complex (AMD provided a lengthy list of all the ray tracing graphics effects being used), or if the hardware is running slower than we'll see in final GPUs, or perhaps YouTube is throttling image quality to preserve internet bandwidth during the current Coronavirus outbreak.
One thing we have learned from Nvidia's attempts to promote ray tracing over the past 18 months: It's very hard to come up with a 'must have' use case for the technology that doesn't tank performance on lesser GPUs.
We're excited to see what the next-generation of graphics hardware has in store for us with regards to raytracing. Hopefully, it will meet the expectations that were set two years ago, not only in graphical fidelity, but also in terms of performance.