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How DLSS is Improving Performance in the Games we Play
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 08:37pm 13/12/21 | Comments
Increased performance whilst maintaining image quality. We take a look at NVIDIA DLSS and dissect its groundbreaking use of AI, and how it’s bringing the best of both worlds to PC games.

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In recent years we’ve seen the arrival of PC gaming’s most visually stunning experiences. From the retro-chic of Arkane’s Deathloop, the neon-futuristic worlds of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Ascent, the vibrant sci-fi spectacle of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the rolling hills of Red Dead Redemption 2, and the quiet and simple beauty of Lego: Builder's Journey, the sheer jump in visual fidelity has been wonderful to see. And this has happened through advances in rendering, modern graphics engines, and ground-breaking features like real-time ray-tracing.

It’s also something that has pushed graphics hardware to the limit, leading to the arrival of new technologies focused squarely on improving performance. As wonderful as a jaw-dropping digital vista is to experience, having that same vista render at 30 frames-per-second or less, quickly puts an end to immersion. With the advent of NVIDIA’s Ampere-based RTX 30 series, and the Turing-based RTX 20 series before it, one of the most talked about performance-improving technologies in recent years has been DLSS.

A New Era For Image Upscaling

DLSS helps bring Night City alive with stunning ray-traced lighting effects.

The idea of upscaling an image isn’t new. That is, running a game in a lower resolution and through an algorithm or other method presenting that same image at a higher resolution. Often the native resolution of the intended display. The reason for this is simple; running a game in a lower resolution and then rendering on a high resolution display results in a faster frame-rate. Upscaling and dynamic resolution adjustment is common across PC gaming and console gaming, especially as we’ve entered the 4K era.

With the advent of NVIDIA’s Ampere-based RTX 30 series, and the Turing-based RTX 20 series before it, one of the most talked about performance-improving technologies in recent years has been DLSS.

It’s something that has been implemented by developers and tinkered with by PC players for many years. But, there’s always been a catch. A higher frame-rate means you’re losing out on visual quality; with the question being ‘How much are you willing to sacrifice to maintain a solid 60fps?’.

DLSS or Deep Learning Super Sampling offers up a different, groundbreaking approach. Improve performance by a sizable measure, but do so whilst retaining like-for-like visual fidelity. Thanks to the GeForce RTX series’ AI-based Tensor cores, having the computational power of a supercomputer makes the seemingly impossible, possible.

NVIDIA ICAT is a tool that allows for seamless comparison between DLSS and other image settings.

Breaking down how it all works might require the sort of maths only a janitor could solve (specifically, Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting), but it all boils down to an AI studying countless images and videos and animations. And then using that info to be able to take a 1080p image and render that in 4K whilst filling out all of the detail without skipping a beat or making things look weird when you add motion and real-time movement.

Over the course of 2020 and 2021 DLSS has evolved too, in the sort of way you’d expect an AI to. Learning and improving, with that same clear focus on image quality and performance. Some of the most recent improvements have come in areas like fast movement and tiny almost imperceptible details that showcase just how impressive the tech is.
DLSS isn’t only about the generational-like bump you get in performance. Traditional upscaling methods, like NVIDIA’s own Image Scaler, can deliver exactly that in some of the most demanding and popular games of the day. It’s DLSS’s image quality that is the game-changer.

So it’s no wonder it’s cropping up in more and more titles each and every month.

Seeing is Believing

The proof, as they say, is in the digital pudding. And with that let’s go through some of the most popular games in the PC landscape. To talk about the stunning visual detail found everywhere you look, whilst getting to witness the incredible results DLSS can provide.


Deathloop sees a massive performance boost whilst retaining Blackreach's intricate detal.

Arkane’s Deathloop is not only one of the most incredible slices of action meets puzzle you’re likely to experience, but the island setting of Blackreef presents a retro-futuristic world by the way of Tarantino cool. From intricate architecture to funky fashion and incredibly detailed weaponry, uncovering its mysteries is as surprising as it is action-packed. Throw in ray-traced shadows and other advanced visual effects, the addition of DLSS support begins to make perfect sense. Deathloop at its core is a fast-paced action-shooter, and anything less than high-performance just wouldn’t cut it. Enable it and yep, image quality doesn’t suffer in the slightest. In fact distant object detail and things like text look arguably better with DLSS here.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

A cinematic adventure that performs beautifully thanks to DLSS.

A space opera by the way of ‘80s nostalgia, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is at once one of the best straight-up comic book adaptations in years and a hilarious and heartfelt galactic romp. It also happens to be one of the most visually impressive games of 2021 with stunning character detail, animation, and a whole suite of ray-tracing effects improving everything from lighting to the reflections found throughout the game’s many environments. When it comes to ray-tracing, DLSS is basically the secret weapon for the GeForce RTX range. Ray-tracing requires a lot of power to pull off, and just like in Guardians’ vibrant sci-fi world, having an AI buddy to help goes a long, long way.


Early Access hit gets a much needed performance boost with DLSS.

Icarus is the next highly anticipated release from talented designer Dean Hall (creator of DayZ) and his New Zealand-based studio, RocketWerkz. Taking place on a strange yet familiar alien planet, it’s an experience chock full of strange landscapes and even stranger beings. A multiplayer survival sci-fi epic in the making. Which is an important distinction to make because Icarus is an Early Access game, and one that will evolve and change over the coming weeks and months. With DLSS enabled though, performance is given a significant boost with or without the title’s impressive ray-traced Global Illumination enabled. It’s a testament to the power of DLSS, especially in relation to Early Access releases, where issues and incomplete features are expected. Here the AI-powered rendering of DLSS retains the pristine image quality of Icarus’s alien planet, albeit with the performance of a version 1.0 release.

Cyberpunk 2077

Still one of the most visually impressive open worlds, Night City continues to stun.

Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City is a testament to pure spectacle, a futuristic metropolitan full of neon excess and little details. Thanks to ray-tracing it’s also one of the most realistic looking and visually intensive games currently available on PC. So much so that without something like DLSS, even the most powerful hardware on the market struggles to maintain a playable frame-rate in 4K. The good thing of course is that technology like DLSS does exist. And with its focus on image quality, recent improvements to DLSS has seen the finer detail of vehicles remain crisp, clean, and without artefacts whilst moving at futuristic speeds. Seeing stills is one thing, watching them in motion is another.

DLSS is currently available in over 130 games, and is appearing in some of the biggest blockbuster titles this holiday season. It’s also easy for developers to implement thanks to simple plugins for platforms like Unreal Engine and Unity. It’ll be available in some of the biggest games arriving over the course of the next couple of months too – from Dying Light 2 Stay Human as well as in the highly anticipated PC debut of God of War.

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