During it's GeForce RTX 3090 announcement, Nvidia spent some time hyping up 8K gaming. What's it going to take to run 8K at reasonable frame rates? That's a huge can of worms, and besides one of the best graphics cards, there are a few other requirements. Nvidia provided additional details on 8K gaming and DLSS, which is what we're focused on here.
First, let's address the elephant in the corner. To play games at 8K, you need an 8K display. Technically you could use one of the existing 8K monitor solutions that use dual DisplayPort inputs, or even one of the original an 8K TVs that used quad HDMI 2.0 inputs. That's messy and prone to various issues, but the newer 8K TVs support HDMI 2.1, which allows a single cable to drive 8K at 60Hz in HDR mode.
Such TVs start at around $2,500, and that's not even a proper 8K implementation. There are a bunch of restrictions on which HDMI ports support 2.1, what video codecs can be used, and so forth. Higher end 8K TVs can easily pass the $5,000 mark. To be blunt: If you can afford an 8K TV, and you're willing to buy one, the price of the RTX 3090 probably isn't a major stumbling block.
Will you actually notice the difference between 4K and 8K, though? Maybe up close, but if you're sitting on a couch, we certainly question whether there will be any true difference to most of our eyes. That's a topic for another day. Let's talk about 8K gaming on Nvidia's new RTX 3090.
There are games where natively rendering at 8K is actually viable. They's the usual culprits: lighter fare like CSGO, League of Legends, maybe Overwatch. Nvidia also showed Apex Legends, Destiny 2, Rainbow Six Siege, World of Tanks, and World of Warcraft breaking 60 fps without any upscaling tricks, though it lists high graphics settings (i.e., not ultra), and none of those games support ray tracing effects.
What do you need to do for ray tracing at 8K?
It's simple: You need DLSS. Nvidia also quietly updated DLSS to version 2.1, or at least the DLSS SDK is at 2.1 now. The new features for DLSS 2.1 include an "ultra performance mode" for 8K gaming, with up to 9X scaling. There's also support for DLSS in VR modes, and DLSS now has a dynamic scaling option so that it doesn't have to upscale from a fixed resolution.
The important bit is the 8K support and 9x scaling. To be clear, what Nvidia specifically means is that 8K DLSS gaming will render internally at 2560x1440 and then upscale that result to 7680x4320.
That's a pretty big leap from the 4X scaling in the 'DLSS performance mode' currently used in DLSS 2.0. Control, Death Stranding, Wolfenstein Youngblood, and other DLSS 2.0 games typically upscale 1920x1080 content to 4K when using the 'performance' option. There's a 'quality' option that upscales from a higher resolution (e.g., 2560x1440 to 4K). We've looked at this in a few games, and in Death Stranding with DLSS we could see a difference between the two rendering modes.
How does 8K DLSS 'ultra performance' upscaling look compared to other possibilities? We haven't tried it ourselves, but circling back to what we said earlier, it probably looks really nice. Better than native 4K? On a couch, from ten feet away? I'm not sure my eyes would notice one way or the other, because the pixels at 4K are already so darn small.
Put another way, I'm using a 28-inch 4K G-Sync display right now. That works out to a pixel size of 0.161mm, and while it's mostly okay, I'd be more comfortable with something closer to 0.242mm (i.e., 2560x1440 on a 28-inch monitor). I have to use 150% DPI scaling to comfortably read most text, and that's from just three feet away. And I don't like using anything other than 100% DPI scaling if possible.
4K on a 65-inch display has a pixel size of 0.374mm, which is far larger, and 8K obviously cuts that in half, to 0.187mm ... but for a 65-inch TV I'm usually sitting ten feet away. For movies and video content, it's going to be hard to see the difference in clarity between 4K and 8K for a typical TV. For gaming content? I sure hope text and UI assets scale properly, or reading them will be quite difficult.
I could sit six feet away from a 65-inch 8K TV and get roughly the same field of view experience as sitting three feet away from a 28-inch 4K monitor, but without the ability to read text. Moving a 65-inch display to three feet would make 8K at 100% scaling usable, except then I'd get whiplash trying to take in everything happening on the screen if I tried to play a game.
Don't even get me started on what it would be like to try and use an 8K display at native scaling that has a 30-inch or smaller screen size. 300% scaling seems like it would be okay, except DPI scaling often doesn't work okay.
We're not saying no one wants 8K displays. If that's what you're after, go for it! We're also curious to see how the lesser GeForce RTX 3080 would do with 8K output using DLSS. Theoretically, it's only about 17% slower than the 3090, and certainly it should handle 1440p rendering without any problems. The same goes for the GeForce RTX 3070. Maybe the 8K upscaling requires more Tensor core power?
More likely is that Nvidia figures anyone who's willing to buy an 8K TV probably isn't worried about saving $800 on a graphics card. Meanwhile, the vast majority of gamers are still using 1080p displays, according to the Steam Hardware Survey.