Published On: Mon, Mar 18th, 2019

Nvidia Brings Ray Tracing to Pascal GPUs along with Unity, Unreal Engines

Ray tracing on GTX finally arrives.

In advance of the 2019 Game Developers Conference (GDC) Nvidia made a few big announcements about what the roadmap looks like for its much-hyped real-time ray tracing technology. First it was announced that it will be bringing the technology to both the Unity and Unreal engines, which is quite promising for next-gen titles. Unity partnered with BMW to show off its new technology in a demo called “Reality vs. Illusion” that depicts a 2018 BMW 8 Series coup rendered in realtime in Unity side-by-side with real footage of a real car. You can watch the short video below and try to guess which is real and which is Unity:

Exit Theatre Mode

Answer: the right side is the Unity engine. Unity also send along a handful of renders of the car so you could get a closer look at the level of fidelity involved. It’s quite incredible, but then again, we all want to see it in motion, and sadly the video demos the company sent along are all incredibly short. As we went to press it sent a longer clip, and you can watch it right here.

Nvidia also raised a few eyebrows by announcing a driver coming in April that will enable “Basic RT Effects” on older GPUs from the Pascal and Turing GTX lineup (and one Volta card). This will let folks with non-RTX GPUs check out some ray tracing in supported games, albeit in a limited fashion. It seems like the reason Nvidia is doing this is to convince game developers to adopt the DirectX 12-based DXR API for its upcoming titles since support will be much broader if Pascal cards support it instead of it being limited to just Turing-based GPUs as Nvidia itself has admitted many consumers were holding off on upgrading to Turing due to high prices and limited games supporting the new technology.

Source: Nvidia

Source: Nvidia

Of course, everyone is wondering just exactly what this “basic RT” will look like, and though we don’t know yet we’re just as curious as you are to find out. An educated guess is that it will just be a very limited implementation of ray tracing technology, so it’ll allow for fewer rays than what would be possible with the dedicated hardware found in the RTX series cards. This will mean a situation where the only elements that are ray traced are things like reflections or shadows. DLSS will also only be available on RTX GPUs, since it uses dedicated hardware that simply isn’t possible with the previous generation of cards.

Nvidia said in a conference call with the press that it might not be possible with every supported game

Nvidia said in a conference call with the press that it might not be possible with every supported game too, as it noted games like Metro Exodus that offer ray traced global illumination will probably not work, but games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield 5 could be compatible since they are only doing reflections and/or shadows. Our guess is it will just be like running DXR at the lowest possible settings, which is something that we never thought Nvidia would allow, but here we are. The notion that you’d be able to run ray tracing at anything but the lowest settings on hardware that wasn’t designed for it seems extremely unlikely, even if you’ve got a GTX 1080 Ti or a Titan XP GPU. Still, we’re quite curious to test it out ourselves.

Sadly we’ll have to wait until April to see what it’s like on a midrange GPU like the GTX 1660 Ti or a midrange Pascal GPU like the GTX 1060. Our advice would be to keep your expectations low.

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Nvidia Brings Ray Tracing to Pascal GPUs along with Unity, Unreal Engines