AMD FSR FidelityFX Super Resolution Quality & Performance Review 218

AMD FSR FidelityFX Super Resolution Quality & Performance Review

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Conclusion

It's finally here. Nearly two years after NVIDIA's introduction of DLSS, we have with us the FidelityFX Super Sampling feature that could defeat one of NVIDIA's strongest selling points. AMD took their time perfecting the core component of the technology, which is a smart upscaler that attempts to sharpen and preserve details of its output. FSR is trivial to integrate into the rendering pipeline of any modern 3D game. Actually, it doesn't have to be games only. The technology looks at only a single image, so it could in theory be used to upscale photos, videos, or anything else. According to AMD, the FSR code will be open-sourced on their GPUOpen site "in mid-July." The shader code isn't publicly available at this time, and AMD wasn't willing to share it with me—I asked. So it's still technically a black box, just like NVIDIA DLSS, but I'm sure AMD will release it soon because the openness is what will drive adoption rates.

Also, given the open-source nature of FSR, it will be easy to further adopt/optimize it for NVIDIA's GPU architectures. At this time, the performance scaling of FSR on NVIDIA is lower than on AMD, but it still works impressively well. I just hope AMD will integrate community feedback into the official code base. Last but not least, with freely available source code, developers have more freedom to adjust and adopt it to their use case. Don't like the sharpening? Engine integration is also much easier because FSR is just a piece of shader code without any special dependencies on hardware, unlike NVIDIA DLSS, which requires Tensor Cores in the GPU. Nobody outside NVIDIA knows if DLSS could work well without Tensor Cores, and NVIDIA certainly won't port it to other architectures. AMD FSR, on the other hand, runs perfectly fine on NVIDIA graphics hardware today. So if you're on even a 3-year old Pascal, you can add free performance—something you can't with DLSS!

And now, the big question—does it work? From a performance standpoint, it most certainly does! Even the "Ultra Quality" preset, which offers the highest image quality, gives you a neat 25-40% increase in frame rates, which will come in very handy when playing on a 4K display with 1440p-capable hardware. While the games we tested today aren't the most demanding, the numbers speak for themselves. A Radeon RX Vega 64 that was a stuttery mess at 4K is now quite playable, especially if you're willing to sacrifice some quality. This also breathes new life into cards like the Radeon RX 580 that can now achieve good framerates at 1440p. This is a big deal for someone still on such older-generation hardware, who probably wanted to upgrade in 2020-21, but was put off by high GPU prices. As you switch between the Balanced, Performance and Quality modes, you more than double your frame rates, which only adds to your freedom.

From a quality standpoint, I have to say I'm very positively surprised by the FSR "Ultra Quality" results. The graphics look almost as good as native. In some cases they even look better than native rendering. What makes the difference is that FSR adds a sharpening pass that helps with texture detail in some games. Unlike Fidelity FX CAS, which is quite aggressive and oversharpens fairly often, the sharpening of FSR is very subtle and almost perfect—and I'm not a fan of post-processing effects. I couldn't spot any ringing artifacts or similar problems.

The more performance-oriented modes of FSR are definitely not for those who want the best quality—the loss in rendering resolution becomes very apparent, very quickly, especially in areas with strong colors and high contrast. Still, I'm not sure if we should completely dismiss these modes as "unusable." For example, if you own an older graphics card and a 4K display, the output of "FSR Performance" will look MUCH better than simply rendering at 1080p and letting the monitor or GPU upscale the output to your monitor's native 4K—I tested it. FSR Performance, which renders at 1920x1080, even looks better than 1440p upscaled to 4K.

While NVIDIA DLSS is temporal, FSR only looks at a single frame. This has the tremendous advantage of avoiding the "ghosting" rendering errors due to objects moving in a different direction than the rest of the scene. NVIDIA addressed this with DLSS 2.0, but the approach requires game developers to feed motion vectors of objects from their game engine to the DLSS algorithm. On the other hand, this temporal approach gives DLSS much more information to work with—multiple images plus the motion vectors. From a technology standpoint, this makes DLSS superior, especially at higher scale factors, because a spatial upscaler simply lacks too much information. AMD has made it clear that FSR "1.0" is a spatial upscaling algorithm, but future versions might be temporal, or something else. They consider super-resolution an active field of research and are wiling to make changes to improve their product. Remember, NVIDIA DLSS 1.0 was a completely different kind of algorithm than what we're seeing with DLSS 2.0, and I'm sure the green team is working on an "FSR-killer" AI algorithm already.

A more political "problem" is that both the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 use AMD hardware, so it is very likely that some form of FSR will be integrated with them, which means game developers have FSR support for PC versions of their games already in their code base as they develop on consoles first. There is no additional integration or development required, unlike DLSS. How close the developer's ties with AMD or NVIDIA are will also play a role, possibly depending on some form of sponsorship. For example, Epic Games, maker of Unreal Engine, has historically worked very closely with NVIDIA, so it's not surprising to see their logo missing from the list of FSR Studio Partners. Almost as if to "prove" that this isn't an issue, AMD included a pre-release key to Terminator Resistance in our press kit—FSR works perfectly in Unreal Engine. Considering how important the console market is for game developers, I doubt any engine maker can afford not to support FSR.

At this time, NVIDIA's list of DLSS supported games is MUCH more convincing than what AMD offers. DLSS is supported in big titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Metro Exodus, Call of Duty Warzone, Fortnite, Wolfenstein, and Rainbow Six Siege. AMD right now has not a single AAA title, but promised support for Far Cry 6, Resident Evil Village, Dota 2, and Baldur's Gate 3.

The coming months will be interesting for sure. Both AMD and NVIDIA will now battle it out in the war of who has the better super-resolution technology—a fight that can only benefit us customers. I'm also looking forward to the first titles that support both FSR and DLSS, so we can compare the two technologies more directly.
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