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What is DLSS? Nvidia’s RTX technology explained

If you’ve been eyeing up an Nvidia RTX graphics card in the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of the term ‘DLSS’, but what does it actually mean? 

We’ve assembled this handy guide so you know all of the important facts for Nvidia’s graphics card technology. Keep on reading for the lowdown. 

Related: Best Graphics Cards 2020

What is DLSS? 

DLSS (an acronym for Deep Learning Super Sampling) is a Nvidia RTX feature that uses artificial intelligence to push a game’s frame performance higher when your GPU is struggling with intensive workloads. 

If we think about it in simplistic terms, DLSS is essentially helping the GPU to render the picture on your display more efficiently, as it’s able to determine what the final image should look like. The technology only works with supported games however, which is currently a limited list that includes Fortnite, Control and Death Stranding.

When using DLSS, your GPU is effectively generating an image at a lower resolution, with DLSS adding additional pixels to upscale the picture to your desired high-resolution picture quality. As any seasoned PC gamer knows, tasking a GPU with a lower resolution results in a significant frame rate boost, so you’re getting the best of both worlds – high frame rates and high resolution – with DLSS. 

Related: Nvidia RTX 3080 review

 

DLSS hasn’t always worked perfectly though. When it initially launched, many gamers spotted that the upscaled picture often looked quite blurry, and wasn’t as detailed as a native 4K picture. However, Nvidia has since launched DLSS 2.0, which has seemingly fixed this issue. Nvidia now claims “DLSS 2.0 offers image quality comparable to native resolution.”

DLSS isn’t just useful for graphics cards that can’t quite hit the 60fps target in 4K resolutions, as one of the main reasons for the technology’s introduction is to offset the performance loss caused by ray tracing. 

Ray tracing is a big buzzword right now, as it improves video game visuals with more realistic lighting and shadow effects. However, ray tracing is so taxing on the GPU that it can cause a significant frame rate drop when activated.

For example, in our benchmark tests the Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card was only capable of hitting an average of 32fps in 4K when playing Control with ray tracing activated. But when activating DLSS, the frame rate performance jumped up to a substantially smoother 63fps performance. 

Related: AMD RX 6800

Unfortunately, this technology is currently exclusive to Nvidia RTX graphics cards. AMD is yet to offer an alternative to DLSS, which means the new Radeon RX 6000 graphics cards are often restricted to low frame rates with ray tracing activated. AMD has confirmed it’s working on a solution, but it could potentially take a long time to launch. 

The next-gen consoles see similar issues too, with Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5 only capable of 30fps when ray tracing is activated. The only way to get Spidey swinging at a smoother frame rate in 4K is to deactivate ray tracing entirely, which is unfortunate since the technology is one of the biggest highlights for next-gen hardware.  

We’ve got our fingers crossed that AMD will come up with a solution, as it’s no doubt that Nvidia’s AI technology is incredibly impressive and useful for stable gaming performances.