AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution vs. Nvidia DLSS

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AMD announced FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) during its Computex 2021 keynote, finally offering an alternative to Nvidia’s popular deep learning super sampling (DLSS) technique. FSR comes with four quality modes and promises up to two times the performance as native 4K in supported titles. But how does FSR stack up to DLSS?

FSR isn’t quite here yet, but AMD already teased what the feature is capable of. As demanding games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Ghostrunner have shown, these upscaling techniques are a vital part of playing the latest AAA games with ray tracing. DLSS has been the only option for the latest couple of years, but FSR could change that.

Compatibility

AMD

One of the biggest differences between FSR and DLSS is compatibility. DLSS is an RTX feature, so it’s only available on RTX 20- and 30-series graphics cards. The most recent version, DLSS 2.0, works by training a neural network with ultra-high resolution frames from a video game. Nvidia bundles the trained model into a graphics card driver, allowing games to compare the low-resolution internal render to the reference image to produce the final frame.

Unlike DLSS 1.0, developers can implement DLSS in their own games without Nvidia’s oversight. Previously, Nvidia would have to train its own model on a game-by-game basis.

FSR is different in that it doesn’t require a specific driver. In fact, FSR supports over 100 GPUs and CPUs at launch, including Nvidia GPUs. During the FSR announcement, AMD also said that it can work on mobile GPUs and APUs, and a patent filed for FSR says that it could work on “a computer, a gaming device, a handheld device, a set-top box, a television, a mobile phone, or a tablet computer.”

The “gaming device” part is what matters. AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics architecture is inside the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, so we could see FSR compatibility on consoles at some point.

AMD powers two of the major consoles, but Nvidia powers the other one. Rumors suggest that Nintendo is working on a Switch Pro model that will use DLSS to upscale the typical 720p output to 4K when docked.

Both techniques are pitched as a way to push visual quality further — Nvidia even did a demo of Wolfenstein Youngblood running in 8K with the RTX 3090. However, FSR also breathes life into old hardware. AMD showed how a budget card like the GTX 1060 can achieve playable frame rates in the latest AAA games, which isn’t really possible with DLSS.

DLSS requires the latest Nvidia hardware while FSR works across multiple devices and generations, so there’s a clear winner here. That said, Nvidia recently released a DLSS plugin for Unreal Engine that “can build the DLSS Plugin for platforms where DLSS is not supported.”

Game support

Nvidia supports DLSS in 49 games at the time of publication, the majority of which support DLSS 2.0. Some games, such as Battlefield V and Final Fantasy XV, only support DLSS 1.0, which isn’t nearly as powerful as the current version. DLSS support has been announced for another 20 games, including Dauntless and No Man’s Sky.

FSR is brand new, so we don’t know the full list of supported games yet. AMD said that it’s already been implemented by over 10 game studios and engines, and AMD showed off Godfall using FSRFSR is part of the FidelityFX suite, and over 40 games support at least one FidelityFX feature. The list of games includes Cyberpunk 2077, Resident Evil Village, and Monster Hunter: World, so we could see FSR support for these titles at some point.

Additionally, players can request support for their favorite games using AMD’s FSR wishlist.

Even with FSR promising broad support, DLSS is in a commanding position when it comes to game support. Nvidia has consistently added DLSS to the latest AAA releases, such as Outriders and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, at or near launch. AMD may promise wide adoption of FSR, but we’ll have to wait and see if developers adopt it as fervently as they’ve adopted DLSS.

Performance

FSR hasn’t released yet, so we don’t know how it will perform across titles once it launches. To compare DLSS and FSR as accurately as possible, we’re using benchmarks from AMD and Nvidia.

AMD has only shown off one game with FSR so far — Godfall. At native 4K with the Epic preset and ray tracing turned on, the game hit 49 frames per second (fps) with an RX 6800 XT. Turning on FSR to the Ultra quality mode brought a 59% increase in performance, bringing the average frame rate to 78 fps. With the most intense Performance mode, the average was brought up to 150 fps.

Assuming Godfall is the best performing FSR title, that means the technique is capable of up to a 206% increase in performance. Ignoring visual quality —  we’ll get to that next — that’s the tentative performance ceiling of FSR.

Godfall doesn’t support DLSS, so direct comparisons are tough. In Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Nvidia measured a 91% increase in Performance mode at 4K with ray tracing turned on using an RTX 3080. In Cyberpunk 2077, Nvidia saw a 234% increase at 4K with Ultra graphics and ray tracing turned on using the 3080.

DLSS can deliver a larger increase in performance, at least based off the data we have now. However, DLSS can go even further. Some DLSS 2.0 games support an Ultra Performance mode that can deliver an even higher increase in performance.

FSR puts up an impressive fight, though. It’s close to the performance of DLSS 2.0 at launch, and Nvidia is in its third year of working on DLSS. Nvidia’s technique has a slight edge right now, but we need to see how FSR holds up in more games to draw any definitive conclusions.

Visual quality

Once again, FSR hasn’t released yet, so we don’t know how the quality will hold up once it’s finally here. From the still images AMD has shown off, FSR looks like it can hold up to DLSS. However, these upscaling techniques show their weaknesses while actually seeing a game in motion, not from a still frame.

DLSS wins this category by default, but we can look at what FSR has to measure up to. Nvidia frequently releases videos showing off how DLSS looks in supported games, and the results are great. In everything from Control to Deliver Us The Moon, DLSS 2.0 holds up. None of the games that we’ve seen produce the infamous smearing that’s typical of algorithmic upscaling, leading to a natural looking image that stays sharp during motion.

Although DLSS 1.0 was a disappointment, Nvidia has continued to improve the feature. Now, it’s a must-have setting for playing demanding games like Cyberpunk 2077 with all of the visual bells and whistles. FSR looks impressive, but we need to see how image quality holds up across games to make any judgement on it.

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