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What Is Ray Tracing & Why You Should Care About NVIDIA Turing GPUs

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Ray traced gaming graphics

source: YouTube

NVIDIA's new GPU has been all up in the news lately and is being called the "Holy Grail" of the gaming industry. For the casual gamer (hi) watching the 30-minute presentation to understand it might be overkill. Lucky for you, I got paid to do it at work in order to write this blog. So here is what you need to know about NVIDIA's new GPU, ray tracing, and why you should give a damn. There's even a bonus prize if you stick around to the end. Just consider me your personal Indiana Jones exploring the alleged Holy Grail of gaming, the NVIDIA Turing GPU.

Turing GPU explained

1. What Is Ray Tracing?

In computer graphics, getting accurate global lighting in real-time gameplay is pretty much impossible. In today's games, scenes are built using rasterization. That means the image is built pixel by pixel using geometry, proximity to other items, and the physics of the scene to create lighting effects. Layering in new tech like ambient occlusion (a topic for another day) can increase the depth of a scene, but the results just don't feel lifelike. Our brains deal with the physics of light all day long, and it's easy to tell when it's not accurate. Hence the major difference between video games and movies with CGI. While movies are able to use global lighting, consoles and computers just aren't fast enough to do it in real-time.

In the simple words of NVIDIA's CEO Jensen Huang, here's why lighting is so important in graphics:

"The reflections have to look right, the materials have to be physically based, so when light strikes it, it makes the right appearance."

Sounds stunningly simple right? Not so fast. It takes an incredible amount of computing power to accurately display light.

Ray tracing is the best technology we have to do this. In an attempt to create global illumination, where objects react to light exactly how they would in the real world, computers cast "rays" of light and trace their path to a light source. That means casting billions of light rays from the "camera" or your point of view when playing a video game. Each of these light rays acts like a real-life light photon and the computer calculates how items should be displayed. Rays can bounce off other objects, be refracted, or absorbed based on the material it hits. Ray tracing creates insanely accurate lighting in computer-generated images and is currently used to render movie scenes. But here's the problem, those scenes take hours or even days to render, making global illumination via ray tracing impossible for video games...until now. Check out the type of amazing, life-like lighting effects the new NVIDIA Turing GPU is capable of:

2. Why Does NVIDIA's New GPU Matter?

With all the computing power it takes to get true global illumination, it has been limited to movies and cut-scenes, not any actual gameplay. With NVIDIA's new Quadro RTX Turing GPU architecture, global illumination in real-time graphics is now a possibility.

This technology was thought to be 5-10 years from becoming reality, but NVIDIA was able to speed that up by creating a chip architecture that is 6x faster than it's previous Pascal GPU. How were they able to speed it up that much in regards to ray tracing? By layering the worlds first ray tracing GPU with an AI model that can be trained to take a lower resolution image and generate a final image at a much higher quality. I'll pretend I just don't have time to explain more about how the tech works, but really it just doesn't make 100% sense to my brain. But who cares, it works and looks bomb:

Does that mean the next Battlefield game will have insane new lighting effects? No. This GPU is now available for developers, but it'll be at least a few years before any of this makes its way into commercial gaming applications. But hey, we gotta start somewhere.

The Quadro RTX Turing chip will make waves in industries outside of gaming as well. Rendering film quality video takes a ton of time and computing power. Entire "render farms" are dedicated to processing video scenes. With the new NVIDIA RTX 8 CPU Server, rendering time can but cut from hours to minutes. At 1/4th of the cost, using 1/10th of the space, and consuming 1/11th of the power, it'll completely change how filmmakers are able to edit & process video. In the image below, the top is a small section of classic render farm, and underneath that is the same amount of computing power, but with the new NVIDIA RTX.

Render Farm Comparison

source: YouTube

In addition to sick new video games and faster film creation, it might someday make new buildings more beautiful. Random, right? Architectural engineers and designers can use the GPU to create objects in solid works, and instantly place them in an environment with real-world lighting to get a way better feel for how the building will actually look. I sit right by our Echogear engineers, so I felt obliged to add this to the blog. Hopefully they'll like me more now. They get sick of all the Machine Gun Kelly that I play.

Solid Works Example

source: YouTube

3. What Does It Mean For You?

Right now? Not much. The new chips will help developers start to build global illumination into games, but you'll still need the console or PC horsepower to run them. An Xbox One is like a 96' Lumina, and you'll need a Ferrari to run these graphics. That means waiting for 2 more generations of consoles before real-time full-scene ray tracing is a thing. Kind of a bummer, but just stay alive for a few more years and your gaming experience will be taken to the next level. Lay off the McDonalds McGriddles and eat a few carrots and you should be fine. I'm pretty good at the board game Operation, so you can pretty much take my medical advice as fact.

If the future of gaming has you all jacked up to upgrade your current PC setup, then we've got news, and a shameless plug for you. Adding an Echogear monitor mount to your setup can help save desk space, perfectly align up to 3 screens, and just make you look like an overall badass like Balla' Brad. With his knock-off designer watch, flowing strawberry blond locks, and Echogear monitor mount, he's the harbinger of value and style. Try to be more like Balla' Brad.

As a "thanks my dude" for reading this article, take 10% off an Echogear monitor mount on Amazon with promo code RAYTRACE. Playing on a console? We didn't forget about you. The code will work for those too. Our TV mounts & stands are some of the highest rated on Amazon and will make your next Fortnite binge better. Hit us up if you want to squad up. I'll hide in a bush the whole time, but we can have a nice chat.

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