DirectX 12 Ultimate is an important update to the well-known Microsoft API. With it, the Redmond giant has taken an important step in simplify, standardize and unify developments of new generation games for PC and Xbox Series X, as it groups four key next-generation technologies for the sector under a single banner.
Before going to see each of these new technologies in detail, let’s pause for a moment on that idea of DirectX 12 Ultimate as a way of unifying game developments for Xbox Series X and PC. It may sound a bit strange at first, but it has a very simple explanation, and that is that the games on both platforms they will be developed, mostly, under said API. Yes, there will be games that will come to PC using Vulkan, but this will continue to be a “minority” option, for better or for worse.
This means that developing a game for Xbox Series X under DirectX 12 Ultimate greatly facilitates subsequent adaptation to PC, and vice versa. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has a clear interest in supporting the Xbox Series X, but it also has a key presence in the PC world, so deep down we are facing a natural movement that is, without a doubt, very positive.
From a strict point of view we can define DirectX 12 Ultimate as a version that collect new technologies and that expands the capabilities of the original version of DirectX 12. Those new technologies are now integrated totally natively, which means that game developers will have much easier to take advantage of and develop their titles with the most advanced in the sector.
What graphics cards are compatible with DirectX 12 Ultimate?
I am sure that our most advanced readers will remember what happened with the different versions that Microsoft released after the original version of DirectX, and that is that the older graphics cards were running out of support. We don’t have to go back far to find simple examples, the GeForce 7000 series and Radeon X1000 were limited to DirectX 9while the GeForce 8000 series and Radeon HD 2000 made the jump to unified shaders and supported DirectX 10.
Well, in the case of DirectX 12 Ultimate full support today is limited to the GeForce RTX series 20. The Radeon RX 5000 series, based on the RDNA architecture, do not have hardware accelerated ray tracing support, and are also not compatible with other key technologies such as mesh shaders or variable rate shader. In effect, this means that this architecture could end up having a pretty bad “old age”, especially if these technologies are really beginning to be used later this year.
AMD has confirmed that the RDNA 2 architecture, which will be used in the Radeon RX 6000 series and that will arrive during the third quarter of this year, will be fully compatible with DirectX 12 Ultimate, which means they will be prepared to accelerate hardware ray tracing. We will see, yes, the performance they are capable of offering.
I remind you that according to the latest information PS5 does not mount a GPU based on the RDNA 2 architecture, but is limited to an intermediate generation that we can consider as RDNA 1.5, and that this could end up greatly weighing down its useful life, since it lacks functions that represent a clear value in terms of optimization.
Previous generation graphics cards are compatible with DirectX 12, but do not support the advanced functions that DirectX 12 Ultimate brings together, and that we are going to discover just below.
DirectX 12 Ultimate: DXR 1.1 for more efficient ray tracing
Ray tracing has marked an important advance in terms of graphic quality in the world of video games. As our most advanced readers will know with this technology, it is possible to generate effects of highly realistic lighting, reflections and shadows, but the cost it represents at the performance level is enormous, so much so that even the GeForce RTX 20 series, which have RT cores to accelerate this type of workloads, do not achieve a truly optimal result.
With DXR 1.1, you get a significant performance upgrade, balancing that ratio of image quality to performance. Developers will be able to use ray tracing to recreate the behavior of light in the real world, generating large amounts of rays that bounce and bounce off different surfaces, but with this new API you will have greater control over this technology.
Greater control should equate to greater optimization, and the latter should translate into better performance in ray traced games, at least in theory. I think we will have to wait for the launch of Xbox Series X to really assess to what extent DXR 1.1 is capable, or not, of making a significant difference.
In current games we have already seen that ray tracing can be configured in different levels of quality, although it’s actually more correct to say in different levels of intensity, since the greater the number of rays generated, the greater the realism, but also the greater consumption of resources. That greater control that Microsoft promises should have a positive impact in this regard. All in all, we should not expect miracles, as it remains a very demanding technology.
DirectX 12 Ultimate: Meshed Shaders
Meshed shaders are not a novelty in the strict sense, although thanks to their integration natively in DirectX 12 Ultimate it can be expected that their use will be increasing, and this is good for everyone, since they represent a major advance in terms of optimization which could improve performance in new generation games, and in a remarkable way.
Its operation is very simple, it is a technology that analyzes in real time all the elements present in a scene and decides, based on a series of basic keys, which elements of that must have a greater geometric load And what elements do not, always weighing the balance between performance and image quality.
I’m sure many of you may have been reminded of the variable rate shader, and yes, essentially the idea is pretty much the same, although in this case applies to geometry and not shadows. For example, imagine that you are playing DOOM Eternal, well, the central part of the screen should have a higher geometric load, and this could be reduced in the most remote areas without any problem.
When the analysis is complete, the parts with the least visual impact have a reduction in the number of triangles used, while those sections of the image that have a greater weight in the scene may receive an increase in the total number of triangles. In this way, you can even improve the final result and reduce the impact on performance.
DirectX 12 Ultimate: variable rate shader
As we have anticipated, we are before a “first cousin” of the previous one. This technology also analyzes the elements present in a certain scene and assesses, based on everything that appears in it and other particularities, which sections should have higher quality shading and which parts should not.
The objective is the same as in the previous case, reduce resource consumption Smartly applying shading without noticeable image loss.
Some games have already used such technology, as Wolfenstein Youngblood, and the performance improvement was between 5% and 10%. Not bad at all, especially considering that it was practically impossible to find a minimal loss of image quality.
This technology, in combination with the previous one, could help improve gaming performance in a more than considerable way. Think for a moment about what it would entail less complex geometry and less intense shading. In effect, it would mean a significant release of resources, provided it is executed correctly.
DirectX 12 Ultimate: sample feedback
The last of the four new technologies of the latest generation that brings together DirectX 12 Ultimate, and frankly one of the most interesting and one of the most unnoticed has happened.
The objective of this function is to achieve a more efficient rendering. Yes microsoft has focused the shot on optimization with DirectX 12 Ultimate, and frankly I’m not surprised, because if you want ray tracing to be really viable on Xbox Series X you have to reduce the consumption of resources on other fronts.
With sample feedback, resources from previous scenes are reused, allowing take advantage of and reuse information from image elements that do not change frequently, such as the shading and colors of certain scenes. This avoids having to completely generate a new frame, and reduces resource consumption.
Thanks to this technology we can also enhance workloads with high-quality textures, and reduce classic problems as annoying as “popping” (sudden appearance of textures and objects) and “stuttering” (stuttering of the image).
Why is DirectX 12 Ultimate so important?
In a way we have already said it throughout the previous paragraphs. DirectX 12 Ultimate is important because it represents a clear and definitive movement in favor of the unification of developments centered on Xbox Series X and PC. Developers will be able to take advantage, from the beginning, all the resources of both systems, and develop at a low level to get a good optimization it will no longer be a problem.
DirectX 12 Ultimate should allow a significant improvement in terms of performance, something that will undoubtedly benefit PC gamers who have computers with more modest hardware. Consider, for example, a computer based on an RTX 2060. This graphics card can move games in 1080p and 1440p optimally with titles of the current generation, but new generation developments will be more demanding And they could put you in trouble, especially in maximum quality settings.
Well, thanks to DirectX 12 Ultimate’s meshed shader, variable rate shader, and sample feedback technologies said graphics card could age much better, and deliver above-expected performance even on demanding next-generation triple-A titles.
There is no doubt that DirectX 12 Ultimate marks an important advance for unification and optimization of developments, betting on a low-level approach and an optimal use of the resources of each platform, but it is also a step forward in favor of ray tracing. The integration of DXR 1.1 and the promises of greater control and more balanced performance could be key to democratization of a technology that, until now, would have been outlined as almost prohibitive.
It is clear that Xbox Series X is going to be the great beneficiary of this new API. It already happened at the time when Microsoft announced Xbox One, and that is that having a specific version of DirectX adapted to the possibilities of its console was key to achieving good performance and to squeeze its full potential from day one, a reality that is will repeat with Xbox Series X. However, in this case, the Redmond company it will not bypass PC users.