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Nvidia looks to the future with G-Sync for laptops, GTX 980 Ti, VR tech and more

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Nvidia's plans for Computex 2015, the computer convention held annually in Taipei, Taiwan, include new products and technologies aimed at the future of video games — that's nothing out of the ordinary. Having said that, the next year or so will see some major shifts in the industry, and Nvidia is looking to capitalize on the way things are changing.

Nvidia's lineup is led by the company's latest graphics card, the GeForce GTX 980 Ti. It's built on the GM200 GPU, the same as the Titan X, and packs 6 GB of video memory. Tom Petersen, distinguished engineer at Nvidia, told Polygon during a recent meeting that customers on the GTX '80 series of graphics cards tend to upgrade about once every two and a half years. That means that the audience for the GTX 980 Ti will be coming from a GTX 680 or a 780 Ti and for those individuals, Petersen said, the GTX 980 Ti is "effectively a massive upgrade."

The new card starts off at about twice the performance of a GTX 680, according to Nvidia. But the upgrade is worth more for people playing games at higher resolutions, which is something that's more and more common. During his presentation, Petersen noted that the number of playing at 4K resolution is doubling year-over-year, and that the industry expects 5 million 4K displays to be in use by the end of 2015. Nvidia says that the GTX 980 Ti will deliver triple the performance of a GTX 680 when gaming in 4K.

"you're going to be able to play all the latest games at 4K"

"That means you're going to be able to play all the latest games at 4K," said Petersen, "with everything turned up." He showed a graph of benchmarks for titles such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (45 frames per second) and Grand Theft Auto 5 (61 fps).

Microsoft's upcoming launch of Windows 10 will bring more advancement in computer graphics with DirectX 12, and Nvidia is also preparing for that technology. The computer industry believes that 350 million PCs worldwide will activate Windows 10 within the first year of its release this summer. So in addition to the base DirectX 12 features, Nvidia's GTX 980 Ti will support technology such as volume tiled resources, which is used for simulations of sparse fluids like clouds, and conservative rasterization, which improves ray-traced shadows.

The GTX 980 Ti is launching at $649, including a free bundled copy of Rocksteady Studios' Batman: Arkham Knight. Nvidia is consequently dropping the price of the GTX 980, which debuted in September, to $499. The company's other cards will stay at their current prices.

Virtual reality is another area that's expected to grow significantly in the near future. Industry analysts are predicting that 5 million VR headsets will be sold in 2016, including the Oculus Rift, which is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of the year. Oculus VR announced the minimum PC specifications for the Rift earlier this month, and while the requirements are demanding — you'll need at least a GeForce GTX 970 or an AMD Radeon R9 290 — Nvidia is working to reduce the load on the GPU.

Nvidia's GameWorks VR suite includes technology called multi-res rendering, which Petersen demoed to Polygon. He explained that VR headsets use a warped image in order to match the curved lenses of the device. However, computers can't generate a curved image by default; they have to warp the existing feed after the fact. Multi-res rendering divides the screen into four unequal quadrants known as "viewports" and renders the outer edges of the image at a lower resolution. This causes no perceptible loss in image quality because that visual information is discarded in the warping process anyway, and it allows a GPU to produce the same image with 30-50 percent less work, according to Petersen.

"At the end of the day, this warped image looks identical to what it looked like before using the full-res render," said Petersen, and that certainly seemed true from our demo. "If you're a VR headset, with this technology you can now run VR on much cheaper graphics cards, or you can run much more complicated games."

The final segment of Petersen's presentation focused on G-Sync, the Nvidia technology that syncs a monitor's refresh rate to the frame rate of a game. Nvidia is adding support for G-sync while playing games in windowed mode, as well as a feature called G-Sync variable overdrive, which will reduce ghosting in images.

Nvidia is also introducing G-Sync in laptops, which Petersen said is "an easier actual environment for us to implement G-sync" because a notebook's display connects directly to the GPU. The company has partnered with manufacturers for laptops that will have what Petersen described as "gamer-grade displays": IPS panels with refresh rates of at least 75 Hz. Twelve different G-Sync-enabled notebooks will be available at launch.