IntroductionBattlefield V continues to be the most heavily chronicled PC game launch in recent times, as developer EA-DICE adds new technologies in piecemeal fashion. Our day-one review walks you through the game's performance the day it launched, without DirectX Raytracing (DXR). A week later, Battlefield V was updated with DXR support, and we promptly put out its performance numbers, which were a disaster for both DICE and NVIDIA. A couple of weeks later, NVIDIA and DICE made good on their promise to improve performance of the game with DXR enabled. Today, we have with us our fourth performance review for Battlefield V, as DICE implemented the other killer feature of NVIDIA's RTX 20-series: DLSS. Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS, is a fascinating method of improving image quality. While traditional pre- and post-processing anti-aliasing methods invariably levy a performance penalty on your machine in exchange for better visuals, DLSS not only strives to improve visuals on par with methods such as TAA (temporal anti-aliasing), but also improves performance of the game itself.
DLSS is the first major gaming application of the tensor cores on NVIDIA's "Turing" GPUs. Originally designed to accelerate building and training of deep-learning neural nets by accelerating matrix-multiplication, tensor cores can also be made to handle complex math within their limited fixed-function instruction set. DLSS works to improve the image quality of your game by rendering it at a lower resolution (this is what improves performance) and then attempting to reconstruct details based on ground-truth data obtained from NVIDIA through driver updates. You can also think of DLSS as a smart application-optimized sharpening algorithm. NVIDIA uses a large server farm to continuously render each scene in a game and build "ground truth" data for that specific game. Your GPU uses this data to reconstruct details.
NVIDIA purports DLSS to be an important feature for RTX 20-series users because it lets them make up a big chunk of performance lost by turning on RTX real-time raytracing. Despite all its refinements, Battlefield V ended up imposing a 20-30 % performance penalty (dubbed "RTX tax") for turning on DXR Reflections. DLSS lets you file returns on that tax. In this review, we explore the image quality obtained by turning on DLSS and its impact on performance. The comparison only includes numbers for the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, and we tested with both RTX and DirectX 12 enabled, using today's GeForce 418.91 driver and today's Battlefield V update on our VGA review test system.
Image Quality Side-by-Side ComparisonHover the mouse sideways for a side-by-side comparison between DLSS-off and DLSS-on. You can also use your scroll wheel to zoom in. Graphics were set to "Ultra", which automatically sets raytracing quality to "ultra", too.
ConclusionDLSS feels like the glee of a big, fat tax refund being granted by the IRS. You get to enjoy your RTX-enabled content with significantly improved performance across the board for this game. We see performance gains in the neighborhood of 20-30 percent, which almost closes the gap between RTX-on and RTX-off! In scenes with vast open spaces, tessellated rocks and surfaces, and light vegetation, we see performance gains of a staggering 35 percent. Forest scenes with increased vegetation, fog, and relatively low surface complexity see gains of around 39 percent. The heavily marketed urban scenes, such as those from "The Last Tiger", see the biggest improvements of over 50 percent!
Side-by-side image quality comparisons show DLSS-enabled images to overcome aliasing, although at the loss of some detail. This is because turning on DLSS causes your game to render at a lower resolution, which is then upscaled with AI, filling in the details based on ground-truth from NVIDIA. While overall, the picture is a bit softer, it seems to us that it doesn't look as soft as DLSS in Metro Exodus, which we also tested today. Compared to Metro, it's very important to mention that HUD images and text get rendered on top of the image after DLSS, so these stay super-crisp, displayed at the native screen resolution. Vegetation and trees have long been a headache for 3D artists as making the perfect tree or bush requires an unreal poly count, and in most scenarios, branches and twigs in trees flicker on screen because there aren't enough pixels to correctly draw all of them. DLSS helps a great deal here since the trees look more natural.
Just like in Metro Exodus, NVIDIA has chosen to limit the availability of DLSS, but in a slightly different way. Enabling DLSS in Battlefield V requires RTX raytracing to be enabled, which in turn requires DirectX 12 enabled. Additional limitations come in form of supported DLSS resolutions. DLSS at 1080p is only available on RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 (not RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti). DLSS at 1440p is available on all RTX cards except for RTX 2080 Ti, and at 4K, all cards can run DLSS. This is somewhat surprising as we can think of many scenarios where people would want to have higher frame rates at lower resolutions to, for example, drive 144 Hz monitors.
Some players are making the argument that enemies are hard to spot when DLSS is enabled, but we're not fully convinced. If you look at the screenshots, you can clearly see the enemies, no matter if DLSS is on or off. Of course, they are slightly less crisp, but the difference doesn't seem to matter much when you just have a split-second to target. On the other hand, we have no doubts that the most hardcore players will play with DXR and DLSS disabled because that lets them disable DX12 and play in DX11 mode, which eliminates a little bit of the stutter that happens from time to time in the Frostbite engine.
NVIDIA also informed us that this latest version of Battlefield V has additional performance improvements for RTX raytracing: "This newest update includes a couple of additional optimizations to ray tracing performance, including optimal ordering of resources for ray tracing shaders and overlapping the ray tracing geometry update with the rasterization. There are no changes to ray tracing image quality or settings in this update." This goes to show that NVIDIA is constantly working on their newest technologies, and seeks to improve them, even after they've launched.