Thanks PS5 and Xbox Series X for making ray tracing cool

Cyberpunk rtx
(Image credit: Nvidia)

When the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti made their debut way back at Gamescom 2018, the way Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang was selling the technology was totally working on me. I've always been the type of person that values eye candy in PC games over frame rates, always choosing to play at 30 fps, rather than daring to lower settings below the highest settings. 

Ray tracing was, and is, the ultimate eye-candy. Beyond being a technological marvel that it even works in real time in video games right now, there have been games like Control and Metro Exodus where the tech has truly heightened the presentation of the game. 

But the games that have supported this tech have been few and far between since Nvidia Turing's launch, thanks in large part to the fact that you needed an expensive RTX GPU to even use it. Thankfully, those days are now ending.  

PS5 scalpers

Just give me one please (Image credit: Instagram)

It's all thanks to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, really

Like a lot of people right now, I have been trying and failing to buy a PS5 since the console launched in early November. I have been there refreshing my cart on the Walmart website trying to get through to checkout to no prevail. 

However, I'm already starting to see the benefit of the PS5 and Xbox Series X existing, even though there isn't one in my apartment right now. Alongside the launch of these next-generation consoles, a ton of games have been launching that support ray tracing. 

Watch Dogs: Legion looks amazing with its ray traced reflections, and having a massive, modern city with all the reflective surfaces is a perfect example of what this tech can do. It's just a pain to actually run, constantly dropping below 30 fps at 4K on the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, but that's another subject altogether. 

Call of Duty has been supporting ray tracing since the last entry, but in Black Ops: Cold War, the RT implementation is better than ever, and it even runs like a dream. 

And then there's Dirt 5, which makes me want ray tracing in every racing game I play, even though that game is more optimized for the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and doesn't have DLSS support. Even at 40 fps, I don't want to turn the ray tracing off on my RTX 3080, because it looks so good, and it's not like I'm playing online anyway. 

That's not even mentioning Cyberpunk 2077, which I obviously haven't played yet myself. What's arguably the most anticipated game of 2020 will be using ray tracing technology on PC, with the next-generation console versions (when they come out) also using the tech.  

Hell, even World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is jumping in on the ray tracing hype, and that game is notorious for looking like a 16-year-old game (though I disagree, most of the time). 

The point is, we've seen more games come out with ray tracing enabled on PC than ever before, thanks to the launch of these next-generation consoles, and I don't think that's going to stop any time soon.

RTX 2060

(Image credit: Future)

But, as always, there's a catch

If you're not one of the lucky few to have a PS5 or Xbox Series X in your home, you're basically stuck building a pretty high-end gaming PC in order to see what all of this hype is about. Right now, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 is still the cheapest graphics card on the market that supports the technology, and unless you can find a used one for cheap, that's still a $349 card, assuming you can find one at retail price – which we can't. 

Altogether, that still means that if you want a ray tracing-capable gaming PC, and you're not upgrading an existing rig, you're looking at spending nearly a thousand bucks or quid to get it done. That's twice the price you'll pay for one of the next generation consoles – again, if you can find one for retail price – and even then that'll be for ray tracing at 1080p, not the 4K gaming that the new consoles can pull off. 

There's a long way to go before ray tracing is as abundant as it needs to be to conceivably replace rasterization, but at least we're getting to the point where the technology has started to be more democratized. 

Thanks in large part to the Xbox Series X, the PS5 and AMD Big Navi, there's a much wider audience for ray traced content. And I can't wait to see what games are going to start coming out halfway through this console generation when anyone can get their hands on a cheap graphics card that can support the technology. 

Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's computing editor. They are fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but they just happen to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop them a line on Twitter or through email.