Most of the doubts around real-time raytracing centre on its adoption. As it currently stands, you need a minimum $350 graphics card in order to even enabled the feature. This means any game using raytracing is targeting a very small minority of PC gamers, becoming a question of whether it’s worth implementing tech that only benefits a few people. It’s a chicken and the egg situation, and it’s why AMD is sitting around waiting for the chicken and the egg to mysteriously pop into existence.
One of the least recognised drivers of technology uptake is new consoles though. While we all occasionally have a good moan about them holding PC games back, the reverse is often true. Each new generation brings a massive bump in PC system requirements as we all upgrade to meet the demands of the cross-platform titles. It’s the sort of thing that could allow raytracing to go mainstream if it also comes to consoles.
On that subject, 4A Games rendering programmer Ben Archard believes ray-tracing should be viable on next-gen console hardware such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlett. Archard doesn’t believe it comes down to using Turing-like architecture either. He thinks it’s possible to do real-time ray-tracing on consoles purely using the compute power of traditional shader units. Metro Exodus remaster inbound in 3,2,1...
“In terms of the viability of RT on next-generation consoles, the hardware doesn't have to be specifically RTX cores,” said Archard to Eurogamer. “Those cores aren't the only thing that matters when it comes to ray tracing. They are fixed function hardware that speed up the calculations specifically relating to the BVH intersection tests. Those calculations can be done in standard compute if the computer cores are numerous and fast enough (which we believe they will be on the next-gen consoles). In fact, any GPU that is running DX12 will be able to "run" DXR since DXR is just an extension of DX12.”
In order for DXR to run on consoles, very fast memory will be needed. Ray tracing requires grabbing data from random locations very quickly, as opposed to SSAO which accesses data that is often adjacent in memory. Provided the consoles have fast memory, and GDDR6 seems a given at this point, then ray-tracing is theoretically possible.
What I find particularly interesting about this is that ray-tracing is a generational leap in visuals. We’d always assumed the PS5 and Scarlett wouldn’t be able to do ray-tracing, and that point what are they other than resolution bump consoles? A pure jump to 4K/60fps isn’t enough to sell consoles, the vast majority of console gamers aren’t even preoccupied with frame rates. You sell consoles through flashy advertising, not tech specs, and these games need to look noticeably better in an advert than what they’ve got on their PS4. DXR could achieve this.
As a side benefit to all of this, DXR coming to consoles will surely accelerate adoption in the PC space. It’ll also be DXR that’s possible on AMD graphics hardware, a move which would surely coincide with next-gen AMD GPUs supporting ray-tracing.
Interesting times ahead for sure. We’d still be very surprised if the next-gen consoles did support ray-tracing but it would be fantastic to see for the future of the tech.