NVIDIA Announces ‘RTX’, Real-Time Ray Tracing Engine for Volta GPUs


NVIDIA today announced RTX, a GPU accelerated technology capable of producing photo-realistic imagery through realtime ray-tracing, all accelerated on the company’s latest generation of Volta GPUs.

Modern GPUs are capable of creating some pretty spectacular realtime imagery these days. Today’s gamers demand a level of visual fidelity unimaginable 10 years ago outside of dedicated 3D render farms, tasked with Hollywood-grade visual effects. And yet, for the most part, even the best looking games available today look as good as they do by utilising a series of rendering shortcuts that produce extremely convincing approximations of how we perceive the world around us, and no matter how good or precise those approximations get, there’s still something lacking.

Photo: Remedy Entertainment

Enter Ray-tracing, a method of calculating 3D scenes which mimics how we as humans perceive the world around us, or more specifically, how the light in our world is perceived by us. It’s a technique that has been around as long as 3D rendering itself, and works by painstakingly calculating beams of light from a source to its destination and how that beam bounces off, permeates through and is occluded by, objects in a scene. The upside of Ray Tracing is that, given enough time and computational power, resulting scenes can be indistinguishable from reality (or virtual reality).

The snag is of course, that calculating all of those light beams is extraordinarily compute intensive, such that any single scene could take many minutes or even hours to render an image which would please or fool the human eye. And until recently, even modern GPUs struggle with the level of number-crunching required to pull it off, but NVIDIA today announced RTX a “highly scalable ray-tracing technology running on NVIDIA Volta architecture GPUs,” that’s been “Architected to support ray tracing through a variety of interfaces.” One of those interfaces is Direct X’s Ray Tracing API DXR, which was also announced today by Microsoft at GDC 2018.

Photo: Remedy Entertainment

“Real-time ray tracing has been a dream of the graphics industry and game developers for decades, and NVIDIA RTX is bringing it to life,” said Tony Tamasi, senior vice president of content and technology at NVIDIA. “GPUs are only now becoming powerful enough to deliver real-time ray tracing for gaming applications, and will usher in a new era of next-generation visuals.”

For the moment, details are a little scant on how NVIDIA has managed to square the computational circle of real-time Ray Tracing, but for the moment at least a portion of the puzzle is tied up inside the company’s latest GPU architecture Volta, which the company has said includes a hardware “ray tracing engine”, although it seems much is offloaded in software to the hardware’s CUDA cores. The APIs and tools for developers to begin to leverage this new rendering engine will make their way into a new release of the company’s proprietary SDK Gameworks. NVIDIA is expected to unveil it’s Volta-based 20xx series GPUs at its own event, GTC 2018, next week.

As to when we’ll actually see applications or games utilising RTX and DXR, seems likely to be quite some time. Although (as you can see from the video embedded on this page) some developers have been able to integrate the new APIs already, with Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Alan Wake, Quantum Break) producing an impressive tech demo via the company’s Northlight game engine. For VR of course, advances in photo-realistic rendering have obvious implications, although quite when GPU power can scale to VR Ray-tracing boggles the mind.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded RiftVR.com to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Nate Vander Plas

    Hmm, interesting, but extremely noisy still. I use Octane for GPU rendering of CGI animations (not realtime, but pretty fast), so I get where this is leading and why it’s grainy. Just seems like it’s not ready for prime-time yet.

    • Lucidfeuer

      It’s been like this since the 90s.

  • Surykaty

    I still don’t understand why are companies pussyfooting about doing raytracing specific hardware like the Caustic/Imagination tech asics which are I guess already dead.

    • Lucidfeuer

      For the same reason Nvidia never pushed for their RT engine: actual implementation and compatibility.

  • Lucidfeuer

    The Brigade engine we never got, except by NVidia which means it’s vaporware. Because of course there’s omission of the single most relevant information which is on how many Volta’s it runs…

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    • Raphael


  • Jean-Sebastien Perron

    Raytracing is the future and it will always be.

  • You guys are killing it with the scoops lately. This is truly groundbreaking, but still waiting for NVIDIA’s IRay360 tool mentioned two years ago. :(

  • oompah

    Thumbs up
    This is real virtual reality
    What it should have been.
    All other stuff looks plasticky as if
    u r playing with puppets /dolls
    The current VR stuff was disappointing
    The only good thing in VR was the 360 (or 180 deg) videos
    all games were crap
    Hope in future , ray tracing’d make spiced up
    when ppl would forget to live in real world
    MATRIX ahoy

    • Laurence Nairne

      Not sure what form of poetry this is…

      • NooYawker

        It’s a boku, an offshoot of the haiku.

    • Engineer_92

      Why are you even here?

    • victor

      don’t agree with you about games in VR today. I , and many people I’ve met on forums can no longer go back playing games on flat 2D screenworld, even with todays VR inferior graphics. Talking about complex games like Elite dangerous, warthunder, DCS…

    • dogtato

      I’m amazed that someone thinks 360 videos are the best part of VR. Either you really like your vr porn or you really don’t like games. I was tired of videos by the time the rift/vive were released, though there were a few that were worth watching once.

  • Badelhas

    We’ve been promised this since Crysis 1 (especially with mods applied) in 2007 and yet games have stalled in terms of graphics since then, in my humble opinion. I blame consoles of course.

  • Nathan Mooth

    Here comes the future. Can you imagine them combining this worth a denoiser machine learning algorithm?

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Other articles already mention denoiser shaders..

  • Harris

    Curious what specific configuration of hardware was used to do the live demo. I’m betting most enthusiast setups won’t be able to handle it smoothly. Also, Apple, pay attention. Mac Pro users want to plug 3 or 4 of these into their Mac Pros. Inside. With PCIe slots.

  • df

    Turns out this was running on 3 Titan V’s. It’s another Nvidia vaporware.

  • Toothlover

    Actually this looks shit…

  • According to latest rumors, NVIDIA won’t announce the GTX 20 series at GTC. We’ll see

  • david vincent

    Can’t wait for foveated ray-tracing.

  • SoullessRobot

    Anybody else watch this and think the animators had a raging crush on the broken Las Vegas lounge from Blade Runner 2049? Looks great. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll be able to afford the hardware when I’m 50… maybe 60.