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How the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU will make your games look badass

Nvidia launched its latest graphics cards at Gamescom 2018. Here's what you need to know.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Nvidia has taken the wraps off a series of new top-end graphics cards -- the RTX 2080, 2080 Ti and 2070 -- for you to shove inside a PC case and enjoy endless hours of crystal-clear gaming

The company went into immense detail at its Gamescom 2018 launch event about what these cards can do, but we've broken down the key info, just for you. 

What is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and why should I care?

The RTX 2080 (and the 2080Ti and the 2070) are the latest series of top-end graphics cards from Nvidia. Why should you care? Well, like any new flagship piece of gaming hardware, they promise a whole heap of improvements to your PC gaming graphics as well as increases to overall efficiency. It's also the first major overhaul to Nvidia's consumer GPUs since the 2016 launch of the GTX 1080 and the other 10-series cards. Lovely!

How are my game graphics going to improve?

The biggest way is by utilizing something called ray tracing. While I won't go into the nitty gritty of what this is, what you need to know is that ray tracing simulates what lighting looks like in the real world when it's reflected off objects. Real-time ray tracing has been something of a holy grail for 3D graphics for at least a decade

Using ray tracing, we see how light reflects off objects more realistically. That might not sound like a big deal, but when you see examples with the technology turned on and without it, the difference is very noticeable.

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This screenshot from Battlefield 5 shows how great real-time reflections can look.

Dice/Nvidia

This is a very processor-intense technique; previously you'd only see it in games during prerendered cutscenes. With the RTX 2080 however, it's the first time we'll see it in action in real time from a consumer-level GPU. 

So, it's all about better reflections?

Ray tracing doesn't just mean mirrors look more real; light in all forms behaves more realistically, giving a much more true-to-life gaming experience. In one example from the game Metro: Exodus shown off at Nvidia's launch event at Gamescom, the character was standing in an old shack, lit by one open window with the sun outside. With ray tracing switched off, the room was black, save from the square of window light on the ground and table in the room.

Turn it on however, and that one light bounced around the room in a way that looked exactly as you'd expect to see it in real life. Nvidia showed how this effect may have been achieved previously by artificially painting light into different areas of the room, but the effect didn't look anywhere near as believable when seen side by side.

Shadows are different too. The harsh edges of today's shadows are gone, replaced with natural softness and an ability to interact with other shadows more naturally. As it's all done in real time, you can see how the effect changes as you walk around and explore a scene. It's possible developers could even use reflections as part of gameplay -- imagine spying a hidden enemy, not by a stray shadow, but by using nearby reflections.

It might not sound like much, but when all these effects come together, the overall result is a scene that's really lifelike and, as a result, more immersive. It's only when I saw a new vs. old comparison that I realised that what I considered to be "excellent graphics" actually still had a long way to go.

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The explosion's reflection on the floor looks horrifyingly realistic.

Dice/Nvidia

What about frame rates? Does this new tech mean slower performance?

Not necessarily, no. I saw some demos running 4K content, with real-time ray tracing running up to 60fps (the sync speed of the monitor it was on). That's a pretty mean feat.

Nvidia did however say that there will be a small effect on performance with the settings maxed out. it's likely that game developers will build in the ability to turn off the effects if a user deems it necessary to eke out every available frame per second. 

What games are supported on the RTX 2080?

Nvidia mentioned over 20 games at its launch event that plan to support the new real-time ray tracing. These include big titles like: 

  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Battlefield 5
  • Assetto Corsa Competizione
  • Mechwarrior V: Mercenaries
  • Metro Exodus
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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Will existing games play even better on the RTX 2080?

Nvidia has been quite coy about giving out figures regarding performance upgrades for non-ray tracing games. While it's safe to assume there may be a bump in performance, but to what extent remains to be seen when we can test them side-by-side.

Nvidia did tease a few numbers though. Far Cry 5, for example, will apparently play at 71 frames per second at 4K HDR with Destiny 2, Final Fantasy 15 and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 all achieving over 60 fps at 4K HDR using the RTX 2080. Not bad.

Nvidia

In general, it looks like we can expect up-to-50-percent-better framerates with a RTX 2080 compared to a GTX 1080 when we're talking about demanding settings like 4K resolution and HDR, and even better with a new deep learning super-sampling (DLSS) technique:

Nvidia

It's not clear how they'll perform without those things, though.

How much will it cost, and when can I get it?

The RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti will both start shipping on Sept. 20 while the RTX 2070 will be available later in October.

The RTX 2070 starts at $499. The RTX 2080 meanwhile starts at $699 while the top-end RTX 2080Ti clocks in at $999. Specific UK and Australian prices aren't known at the time of writing. Most of the big-name PC makers will offer the card in prebuilt or built-to-order desktops at launch. 

Anything else to know?

Nvidia talked about the importance of "neural networks" and deep learning in the card, specifically when it comes to image processing. Upscaling images on screen was a big deal at the event, with Nvidia showing examples of how both still images and moving video in games will be sharper, with videos having fewer artifacts during fast motion.

As well as showing how a low-resolution image can be made high resolution using deep learning, it also showed a demo with Loreal hair where a girl's hair colour was changed seamlessly in real time using software.

The company hasn't said a lot about partnership with imaging companies like Adobe, but my colleague Lori Grunin says, "You won't get any photo editing advantages from the [RTX] 2080...Adobe probably has to re-architect the way it uses the GPU over the CPU to take advantage."

Read all of CNET's Gamescom coverage here

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