Windows' DirectX 12 Ultimate will help Xbox Series X, PC games look better

It dials DirectX 12 up to 11.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
2 min read

The "Ultimate" version of DirectX 12, officially launched Thursday by Microsoft and Nvidia , doesn't add much in the way of capabilities to the gaming graphics programming architecture. It mostly wraps together several specific existing programming interfaces into a single update, including:

  • Ray tracing (DXR 1.1) for more realistic and easier-to-create reflections, shadows and illumination.
  • Variable rate shading, which allows developers to concentrate system resources where they're more important visually.
  • Mesh shaders, which gives developers more control over GPU acceleration when it comes to surface complexity for improved performance.
  • Sampler feedback, to improve performance by, say, allowing a game to reuse already-rendered textures or bypass rendering of surfaces you can't see, as well as to load textures faster (texture streaming), a big part of the Xbox's SSD support.

Though all that sounds esoteric, in practice it creates a unified programming interface across the upcoming Xbox Series X console and Windows 10 for all the newly hyped acceleration and intelligence algorithms on that console, which is due out at the end of this year. This makes cross-platform game design simpler (at least in some ways for those two), PC graphics-card driver support swifter and -- what we really care about -- means potentially more games looking more realistic and adding playability without taking a performance hit.

Most notably, it was created in conjunction with Nvidia, which added ray-tracing cores with its RTX-generation of graphics processors, and AMD, which added it in the RDNA 2-generation of its graphics processors -- the ones being used by both the upcoming Xbox Series X and Sony PS5.

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Correction, 10:40 a.m. PT: Corrects mention of RTX programming, adds AMD's role.