What is real-time ray tracing and why should you care?

If you have been following the coverage of Nvidia’s new graphics cards, you will have seen lots of talk of ray tracing. The new RTX series graphics cards were announced last month and will be hitting stores soon. As well as being faster and much more expensive, they are making a big thing out of ray tracing as a feature. So what is it and why should you care?

The first thing to say is that if you don’t play games, you don’t need to care. You won’t need to spend the cash on one of these cards either. If you are a gamer, things get a little more interesting.

What is ray tracing?

Ray tracing has not only been highlighted by the new RTX graphics cards but also by Epic and their Unreal game engine. Essentially, ray tracing uses the graphics engine to predict how light would affect objects within an image. It traces every single ray of light through a graphical image to accurately reflect what we would see in the real world.

The ray tracing algorithm uses physics from actual physicists who mapped how light behaves. This was then transferred into the graphics engine to be portrayed on screen. Previously, the engine has done this through software that works out the 2D math and portrays it on the screen. It takes a lot of power to produce ray traced graphics which is why there is a hit on performance when it is enabled.

Real-time ray tracing

Real-time ray tracing as made possible by RTX is something different. It enables a graphics card to perform all that ray tracing goodness in real time without that performance hit. So every frame you see on your screen can have ray tracing enabled without losing frames per second or experiencing stuttering while playing. It could literally be a game changer.

If you want to see ray tracing in action on a PC, watch any demo of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It is one of the few games around right now that uses the technology. More are certain to follow. The upcoming Battlefield V, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and Assetto Corsa Competizione are some more games that will use ray tracing on compatible graphics cards.

So far, only the new Nvidia RTX range of graphics cards will support real-time ray tracing. No doubt AMD will also feature the technology, or something better when it releases its own next generation cards. With the cheapest RTX card being priced at $499, they aren’t cheap but are likely to come down in price once this generation of cards becomes mainstream.

If you want to upgrade your graphics card but don’t know how, the computer repair guys at Dave’s Computers in New Jersey can help. Bring your computer to our store and we will see what we can do!