Nvidia’s Ray Reconstruction aims to do for ray tracing what DLSS did for anti-aliasing

As with Half-Life 2 RTX, Nvidia have taken to Gamescom to make a heap of DLSS announcements. Chief among these is an upcoming new version, DLSS 3.5, which will add to DLSS 3’s existing toolkit of upscaling and AI frame generation with a new trick named Ray Reconstruction. And it sounds pretty clever, if currently limited in application.

Basically, Ray Reconstruction promises to enhance how ray-traced lighting and reflection effects look, while also reducing their typically steep performance cost. A little like how OG DLSS sought to upgrade the effectiveness and performance of anti-aliasing, one might say. If it works, games that support DLSS 3.5 – Cyberpunk 2077 and its Phantom Liberty expansion have already signed up – could start coming with a simple toggle that makes them look nicer and run better. Sounds good, so long as you also have a GeForce RTX graphics card with enough muscle to handle ray tracing in the first place.

To explain the technical details in a way that hopefully won’t send anyone to sleep, I’m going to acquiesce to Alice Bee’s requests that I use more ‘cowboys and beans’ metaphors à la the RPS Electronic Wireless Show. Rendering games with ray tracing creates a lot of visual noise, this being discoloured pixels and other nasty distortions that could spoil the image – picture this as a cowboy getting indigestion from eating some otherwise delicious beans. Denoisers, collections of algorithms designed to smooth out and hide noise are therefore deployed, like the beans manufacturers spiking their sauce with a cowboy tummy-soothing antacid.

However, because the denoising process can kill off some colour data and finer details, Ray Reconstruction aims to replace existing denoisers by examining data from previous frames and using it to AI-generate fresh pixels that form a clearer image with more accurate ray tracing effects. Say that the beans manufacturer allows a contracted sauce specialist to reformulate the sauce with a more effective antacid, added vitamins (for the cowboy’s bone health), and a healthy pinch of seasoning for flavour. That’s DLSS 3.5 and Ray Reconstruction.

Still here? Then have a look at these comparison shots. Obviously I’ll be testing out Ray Reconstruction myself once DLSS 3.5 is available, but it sounds promising, especially since it apparently gives performance a bump.

A comparison image showing how Cyberpunk 2077 looks and performs with various Nvidia DLSS features, including frame generation and Ray Reconstruction.
Image credit: Nvidia

A comparison image showing Cyberpunk 2077, with and without Nvidia DLSS 3.5's Ray Reconstruction
Image credit: Nvidia

A comparison image showing Portal with RTX, with and without Nvidia DLSS 3.5's Ray Reconstruction
Image credit: Nvidia

Unlike DLSS 3’s frame generation feature, Ray Reconstruction won’t be limited to RTX 40-series GPUs either: any RTX card back to the 20-series should work with it. Game support won’t be as widespread, though, as Nvidia say they’re “currently focusing” on getting Ray Reconstruction into games specifically with full path tracing. Those with a narrower set of standard ray tracing features will have to wait, leaving a tiny initial lineup of the Cyberpunks in September, Portal with RTX (which is getting an upgrade to DLSS 3.5) in the autumn, and Alan Wake 2 when it launches on October 27th.

Also, Alan Wake 2 will have path tracing. News! Remedy’s survival horror sequel headlined another Nvidia Gamescom reveal, with several blockbusters confirmed to either add or release with various ray tracing and DLSS capabilities.

Alan Wake 2 will have the full set: path tracing (a.k.a. “full ray tracing”), DLSS 3.5 and Nvidia Reflex. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will launch with DLSS 3 and Reflex, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty will get Reflex alongside its vaunted path tracing and DLSS 3.5. Payday 3 will have DLSS 3 and Reflex when it rolls around on September 21st, while battle royale juggernaut Fortnite will get DLSS 3 patched in sometime this autumn.

Despite having my faith in frame generation shaken by Immortals of Aveum’s dodgy implementation of it, Nvidia’s RTX features generally prove to be worthwhile additions to any PC game’s settings menu. If Ray Reconstruction operates as advertised, it has a really good chance of continuing the streak, especially since it addresses a longstanding problem with ray/path tracing: it’s just so hard on the ol’ FPS.

At the same time, if it did work well, it would be a shame to stick just to path tracing, a feature that only a tiny fraction of PC owners have the hardware to run at all. So long as we’re drawing parallels between Ray Reconstruction and DLSS, I’d like the see the former spread as widely as the latter has, becoming a useful tool for mid-range, RT-capable graphics cards just as much as luxury models.

Gamescom 2023 has arrived, and you can find all the latest news and previews from the show floor in our Gamescom 2023 hub.

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