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NVIDIA's next-gen gaming graphics card, GeForce GTX 980 revealed!

By Vijay Anand - 19 Sep 2014

Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR)

** Updated on 29 September - Added a video that helps relate DSR in actual gameplay.

Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR)

What this feature is designed to address is to improve your game's graphics quality while you're limited to your Full HD resolution monitor - the most commonly used monitor in the market. In other words, you've maxed out your graphical settings, your system is generating far more frame rates than necessary and yet you're not quite satisfied with the game's rendered quality.

How do you improve a game like Dark Souls II to deliver better graphical quality than it was designed for? Well, NVIDIA seems to think that a different approach to rendering the image with DSR would help the game deliver a better a gameplay experience.

A prime example NVIDIA cited is in Dark Souls II where the grass foliage swaying in the distance looks unsettling because the grass stalks look jagged and sort of 'break up' when they sway. This phenomenon happens because when the scene to be rendered is placed against a resolution grid to determine which pixels get lit or not on the screen (based on binary representation), inevitably, you get a stair-stepped effect. You would think that anti-aliasing should resolve this, but this highly depends on where the coverage samples are present with respect to the rendered image. As such, in the example of Dark Souls II, you still get unsatisfactory representation of certain elements on screen despite having maxed out the graphical quality.

NVIDIA proved that if your game is rendered at a higher resolution, for example in 4K, and then using appropriate filtering to downsample the rendered content to fit the 1080p monitor, you still get an upgrade in imaging quality as opposed to rendering at Full HD right off the bat. The reason? Using 4K resolution, the resolution grid is finer and each pixel is smaller - this gives it a higher chance that something as fine as a blade of grass has a higher chance of being rendered more accurately. The resulting outcome works well for Dark Souls II where excess horsepower is put into good use to improve the in-game imaging quality.

NVIDIA's presented a close-up split-screen of Dark Souls II rendered on a 1080p display without DSR and with DSR (right). You can immediately see the difference in the quality of the blades of grass has improved quite drastically.

To give you a good feel how it's like in actual gameplay, we've captured this technical demo where NVIDIA's technical marketing director Tom Petersen runs through how DSR works in detail:-

As explained earlier, if you look at how the graphics card determines if it's worthwhile to render the pixel to represent the blade of grass, you can see that some pixels aren't lit in the bright shade, thus the blade of glass appears to be 'broken' - exactly how it appears in-game as well. Rendering at a higher resolution using a finer resolution grid means that there are more chances that the coverage samples detect the presence of the blade of grass and render it in a suitable shade appropriately.

Here's an actual in-game close-up photographed from a demo machine's monitor without DSR. This was taken at NVIDIA's event, thus we have to go with photograph. Click to view the 100% cropped photo.

Now this is an almost similar shot on a side-by-side system, but this has DSR enabled. While you can see DSR helps, its full benefit would be better appreciated in-person while playing the game. Click to view a 100% crop of the photo up-close.

All this sounds similar to Supersampling Anti-aliasing? Kind of, because SSAA also renders the image at a higher resolution, but the according to NVIDIA, the real differentiator with DSR is in the filtering techniques used to achieve the downsampled image.

Likewise, NVDIA claims that this works well for a number of other games and is a feature that doesn't require game developers to do anything. DSR will be offered as a function within the next GeForce Experience and should in fact work without user intervention. In other words, you don't have to be concerned whether your system has enough processing power to deal with DSR as GeForce Experience will determine this for you.

You can however tune the DSR setting on a per game level to your preference; for example, you might want it to tone down the resolution to something lower than 4K but still better than FHD, among a few other knobs to be absolutely sure you maintain high frame rates.

However, the level of in-game quality improvement is squarely dependent on each game and as well as the game's own UI if it is able to scale appropriately at a higher resolution and then downsampled to fit the monitor's resolution.

You don't have to worry about grappling with yet another feature as NVIDIA promises to offer DSR via GeForce Experience. This will ensure you reap the benefits from the new developments made by NVIDIA without requiring to know how to make use of it or if your system is able to support it. Just let GeForce Experience do its job while you enjoy your game.

Should you want more control over your DSR enabled gaming, there are a few control options offered that directly correlate to your in-game FPS experience.

While Dynamic Super Resolution isn't necessarily a Maxwell second generation hardware dependent feature, it will initially be available only on new graphics cards based on the new Maxwell GPUs like the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970. NVIDIA said they would consider enabling this feature to previous generation graphics cards at a later time, but suffice to say that you'll need more horsepower to pull off such a feature and hence it makes sense to just offer this on newer products. Still, we believe owners of previous generation high-end cards or multi-GPU configurations should be entitled to benefit from this enhancement as well.

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