If you’re not familiar with ray tracing, the simplest way to describe it is a more advanced and lifelike way of rendering light, shadows, and reflections in a scene. Ray tracing is commonly used in movies and TV shows, and its application in games is now possible thanks to more powerful hardware.
However, ray tracing is an extremely graphically intense feature that often requires developers to lower a game’s performance and resolution to implement it effectively on PS5. This has been the case in games like Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2, Control Ultimate Edition, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, though developer Insomniac does offer a Performance RT mode, which includes a lower fidelity form of ray tracing but keeps the frame rate at 60fps.
Sony, then, looks to be trying to address the toll that ray tracing can have on a developer’s resources. A post on Sony Group’s website highlights a new AI technology, which could increase performance in PS5 games. Takafumi Morifuji, a lead researcher at Sony Group Corporation, is exploring super-resolution technology in ray tracing, which essentially relies on machine learning to make lower resolution images sharper and more clear.
Even though the new AI technology is currently only being tested in CG movies, Morifuji says that super-resolution ray tracing will have a “large effect in the future”, and “the aim is to extend the use of technology to games, movies, and other areas of entertainment.” There’s no reason why, then, we couldn’t eventually see super-resolution technology in ray tracing be used on PS5.
Another sign that Sony is taking ray tracing seriously comes via a recently spotted patent filed by Sony’s lead system architect, Mark Cerny. Cerny filed a patent for “System and method for accelerated ray tracing” on August 20, 2020 (thanks, Zuby_Tech), which points to a new way of optimizing ray tracing effects on PS5.
While it’s hard to parse through all the technical language used, it appears that the new patent would effectively reduce the number of rays that need to be cast in-game, reducing the resources needed for ray tracing while still delivering a comparable experience.
Analysis: ray tracing needs a boost
It’s clear that even though ray tracing is a desirable feature, it currently takes too much processing power to be as mainstream as some might like. If Sony can find a way to optimize ray tracing or use upscaling techniques to provide better image quality when resolution or frame rate does have to be compromised, it could make the feature a more tempting proposition for developers and gamers alike.
Currently, only those with access to high-end GPUs like the Nvidia 3090 can really get the most out of ray tracing, along with the use of Nvidia's DLSS technology which uses AI to upscale lower resolution content, similar to what Sony is proposing with its machine learning tech.
But why do we need ray tracing, exactly? Even though developers have mastered the art of creating convincing lighting in games, it’s a time-intensive process that can’t replicate the same level of realism that ray tracing can provide. The same is true of reflections and shadows.
Here’s hoping ray tracing continues to be improved in the future, particularly on consoles like PS5, as it’s a technology that can have a truly transformative effect.
We've contacted Sony for comment on the patent and will update this article should we hear more.
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Adam was formerly TRG's Hardware Editor. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. He is now an editor at The Shortcut.