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AMD’s answer to Nvidia’s image-upscaling DLSS tech is here

FidelityFX Super Resolution promises massive performance gains

a lizard queen with two serpentine heads coming out of her back in Godfall
A scene from Godfall, one of the first seven games to support AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution.
Image: Counterplay Games/Gearbox Publishing

AMD’s new foray into the field of image enhancement technologies is now available, providing PC gamers with an open-source alternative to options like Nvidia’s well-regarded Deep Learning Super Sampling.

First teased last fall during the announcement of the Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards, AMD’s technology is called FidelityFX Super Resolution. The goal of these kinds of techniques is to improve performance (i.e., frame rate) by rendering a game at a lower internal resolution and then upscaling that original image to a higher output resolution — without sacrificing image quality too much.

AMD FSR works differently from solutions such as Nvidia DLSS (which relies on machine learning algorithms to process multiple past frames) and checkerboard rendering (which breaks up an image into 2x2 grids and renders half the pixels, then combines consecutive frames to get a 4K output). Here’s a description of the FSR process from AMD’s gaming blog:

The upscaling process analyzes the source image to detect edges and then reconstructs them in high definition at the target higher resolution. Then a sharpening pass further improves the image quality by enhancing pixel detail.

AMD refers to FSR as a “spatial upscaling algorithm” — there’s no temporal component, unlike with, say, DLSS or checkerboarding. A consequence of this, Digital Foundry reports, is that FSR’s primary benefits when it comes to image quality are limited to geometric objects with clearly defined edges. For elements that have sub-pixel detail and change with every frame, like strands of hair, FSR produces a noisy image that compromises the quality of native rendering too much, according to Digital Foundry.

In fairness to AMD here, Nvidia’s original release of DLSS in early 2019 wasn’t much to write home about. It wasn’t until the arrival of DLSS 2.0 a year later that the technology truly began to bowl people over.

It’s also worth noting that AMD is promising significant performance benefits with FSR. In Performance mode at 4K — which renders at 1080p internally and “visibly impacts image quality,” AMD notes — FSR delivers an average of 2.4 times the frame rate with RX 6000 series cards, according to AMD’s benchmarks. In a title like Counterplay Games’ Godfall on a 6800 XT, AMD says that FSR can push the average frame rate from 59 frames per second to 144 fps. Depending on your personal taste, that might be enough of a boost to outweigh the Performance mode’s compromises on image quality.

The other major advantage of FSR is that it’s an open-source, cross-platform technology. Nvidia DLSS is proprietary and relies on machine learning, which means it’s limited to the company’s newer graphics cards — the GeForce RTX line — which have dedicated “tensor cores” to handle the AI computation that DLSS requires. But while FSR is “optimized” for RX 6000 and RX 5000 GPUs, including mobile variants, AMD says the technology runs on a wide variety of graphics hardware going back to RX Vega GPUs, and even Ryzen CPUs with integrated Radeon graphics.

Moreover, FSR will also run on Nvidia cards as old as the GTX 10 series — as well as consoles. The first apparent confirmation of that by a game maker came Tuesday from The Riftbreaker developer Exor Studios, which said that the Xbox Series X version of the game will support FSR. In response to the same question about the PlayStation 5 version, Exor said, “Nothing stops us from enabling FSR on PS5. Whether we do it or not is a separate question that we are unable to answer as of right now.” Earlier this month, Microsoft itself confirmed that the Xbox Series X and Series X will support FSR.

The Riftbreaker is one of seven titles in the initial slate of games with FSR support on PC; the others are 22 Racing Series, Anno 1800, Evil Genius 2, Godfall, Kingshunt, and Terminator: Resistance. AMD said Tuesday that FSR will be available in other existing and upcoming titles like Dota 2, Far Cry 6, and Resident Evil Village by the end of 2021, and that more than 40 game developers are working on including FSR in their games.

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