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What is NVIDIA DLSS? Machine Learning for Gaming

What is NVIDIA DLSS? Machine Learning for Gaming

Jolene Dobbin
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In 2019, NVIDIA first released its groundbreaking artificial intelligence (AI) rendering technology called NVIDIA DLSS (deep learning super sampling). Since then, it has only improved on its innovative technology. It harnesses the power of machine learning (ML) to let you play games at a virtualized higher resolution, enjoying greater detail and higher frame rates without over-taxing your graphics card.
Let’s explore what NVIDIA DLSS is, how to use DLSS, the technology behind it, which graphics cards feature it, and its benefits for gamers and power users.

What is NVIDIA DLSS?

NVIDIA DLSS, which stands for deep learning super sampling, is an AI rendering technology that is powered by dedicated tensor core AI processors on NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX GPUs.
This rendering technology taps into a deep learning neural network using NVIDIA’s AI that is trained with high-resolution images. Machine learning (ML) then teaches the neural network how to add in and infer details about images in their native resolution.
NVIDIA DLSS forces a game to render at a lower resolution rate such as 1080p (Full HD) or 1440p (Quad HD), and then uses the AI algorithm to infer what that image would resemble if it was actually rendered at a higher resolution such as 2160p or 4K.
In this way, images are rendered at a lower resolution, yet give the impression that they’re actually running at a higher resolution. This dramatically reduces the overall work that the graphics processing units (GPU) has to perform. The result? Increased graphics performance and frame rates, producing sharp images for your games that go beyond native rendering capabilities.

DLSS explained

NVIDIA DLSS helps to lessen the effect of graphics techniques such as ray tracing on a game’s performance. Ray tracing is the next-generation realism technology that enhances the lighting in games.
It works by simulating the way light rays and shadows behave in real life. For example, light may reflect off of a smooth surface or cause shadows to appear on a wall. It’s one of the reasons that many video games nowadays look so visually stunning.
However, when technologies like ray tracing are employed in graphics cards, they use a lot of power. NVIDIA DLSS lets you continue using ray tracing settings without hampering the performance of your game.

Benefits of DLSS for gamers and power users

NVIDIA DLSS enables a number of benefits for both gamers and power users like video producers.

Faster frame rates

Generally, games that run at higher frame rates per second (fps) perform better and faster than games that run at lower fps. Though your desired fps can vary depending on gaming or streaming requirements, most games perform ideally with at least 30 fps, while faster action-packed games tend to run at about 60 fps.
NVIDIA DLSS can accelerate frame rates substantially – from up to 60%, depending on the resolution, graphics card, and the game itself.

Enhanced images

Running games at higher fps often affects the visuals, resulting in stuttering or lagging. NVIDIA DLSS helps counteract that effect, delivering enhanced and sharper image quality that’s comparable to those that one would expect at higher resolutions.
For instance, NVIDIA DLSS can offer the extra pixels and the visual output of 2160p (4K) imagery while actually rendering a game’s frames at a lower-powered 1080p resolution.

Improved performance

Games that play at higher settings can tax the graphics card (GPU) and impede performance. Performance can vary depending on if your GPU is running ray tracing, the specific game that you’re playing, and hardware configurations.
NVIDIA DLSS can help improve the performance of your system even when it’s running at higher settings, efficiently using tensor cores to execute 2x faster than the first version and over 300% in some games.

Enabling NVIDIA DLSS on your GPU: Choose from four modes

NVIDIA DLSS lets you choose among four quality adjustment modes that control the game’s internal rendering resolution, denoting the relationship between rendered images and their upscaled versions. Each mode focuses the tensor core horsepower of NVIDIA GeForce RTX cards on a particular attribute, either emphasizing frame rates or image details.

1. Quality mode on NVIDIA DLSS

Quality mode renders games closer to the native resolution than the other modes in NVIDIA DLSS. This mode prioritizes visual quality and actual pixel count over frame rates, offering a small fps boost. Yet it doesn’t affect image quality overall, although it does provide higher image quality than the Balanced and Performance modes.
Quality mode works well for those using powerful 4K monitors and PCs, as well as those gaming at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions who are looking to optimize images. When played at 1080p (Full HD) and 1440p (Quad HD) resolutions, Quality mode boosts performance by up to 76%.
Recommendation: NVIDIA recommends using the Quality mode for gaming at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions.

2. Balanced mode on NVIDIA DLSS

Balanced mode offers an ideal combination of optimized performance and image quality. It’s not quite as demanding as the Quality mode, nor does it affect performance as much as the DLSS Performance mode.
Balanced mode keeps you as close as possible to your display’s native refresh rates as well as the in-game frame rates that you select. Although this mode works across all resolutions, those using 4K monitors and those gaming at 1440p resolutions will probably benefit the most from enabling Balanced mode.
Recommendation: NVIDIA recommends using the Balanced mode for gaming at 1440p (Quad HD) resolutions.

3. Performance mode on NVIDIA DLSS

Performance mode provides higher performance than both the Quality and Balanced modes. Though it prioritizes frame rates over resolution, Performance mode enables up to 4x AI super resolution. That is 1080p render resolution greater than or equal to 2160p (4K) output resolution.
Performance mode boosts performance by 2 to 3x when playing at 2160p (4K) resolutions, enabling games using GeForce RTX 2060 to run at maximum settings at a playable frame rate.
Recommendation: NVIDIA recommends using the Performance mode for gaming at 1440p (Quad HD) resolutions.

4. Ultra-performance mode on NVIDIA DLSS

The Ultra-performance mode offers the highest performance increases over all of the other modes, including Performance mode. It provides the largest boost in frame rates compared to the other modes, but it doesn’t prioritize visual output. In fact, it offers the lowest resolution rendering image quality compared to the chosen native resolution.
Ultra-performance mode is geared toward those looking for the fastest possible frame rates who don’t mind compromising some visual fidelity. Those using 4320p (8K) monitors, or 1080p monitors with high refresh rates (i.e., 144 Hz) will get the most out of enabling this mode.
Pairing a GeForce RTX 3090 with the Ultra-performance mode of NVIDIA DLSS allows you to create 8K game content.
Recommendation: NVIDIA recommends using the Ultra-performance mode for gaming at 4320p (8K) resolutions.

NVIDIA DLSS-supported cards

NVIDIA DLSS is available for all NVIDIA RTX GPUs at all resolutions. This includes the first generation RTX 20 series and the latest RTX 30 series of GPUs. Because NVIDIA’s RTX 2000 and 3000 series of graphics cards contain the tensor cores that enable DLSS, you simply need to look for the “RTX” prefix to know whether or not your NVIDIA GPU will work with NVIDIA DLSS.
Here are a few of the more popular NVIDIA RTX DLSS graphics cards that you’ll probably come across:
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 and RTX 2060 Super
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 and RTX 2070 Super
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Super
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
  • NVIDIA Titan RTX
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 and RTX 3060 Ti
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 and RTX 3070 Ti
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3080 Ti
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090

Supported game engines

NVIDIA DLSS is now available in Unreal Engine (UE) 5 and 4.26 through the official DLSS UE plugin. Unreal Engine developers can benefit from both boosted frame rates and the beautiful, sharp images that DLSS enables. You don't need an application for access.
In addition, NVIDIA DLSS is now natively supported for HDRP in Unity 2021.2b. Unity developers also benefit from the same enhanced frame rates and imagery that the UE developers can access.

A few of the biggest games that feature NVIDIA DLSS

NVIDIA DLSS is available in a wide variety of games across genres. Here is just a partial list of some of the more popular triple-A (AAA) and other games from an ever-expanding arsenal:
  1. Battlefield V
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  3. Control
  4. Cyberpunk 2077
  5. Death Stranding
  6. Deliver Us the Moon
  7. DOOM Eternal
  8. Dying: 1983
  9. Edge of Eternity
  10. Final Fantasy XV
  11. Fortnite
  12. Ghostrunner
  13. Icarus
  14. Into the Radius VR
  15. Iron Conflict
  16. LEGO Builder's Journey
  17. Marvel's Avengers
  18. Metro Exodus
  19. Minecraft with RTX for Windows 10
  20. No Man's Sky
  21. Rainbow Six Siege
  22. Red Dead Redemption 2
  23. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  24. Wolfenstein: Youngblood

The future looks smart: NVIDIA graphics cards for machine learning

When NVIDIA DLSS was first released, the AI algorithm had to be trained for each game. Now, with the latest DLSS, NVIDIA offers a generalized AI network that provides one network for all games.
As the neural network behind NVIDIA DLSS continues to get smarter, so too will the algorithm powering the technology. This benefits the developers who are adding this rendering technology to their DLSS games, as well as the gamers experiencing the faster frame rates, enhanced imagery, and other associated benefits that they’ve come to expect from their favorite titles.
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.
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