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DF Direct Weekly talks CES, NFTs and GPUs

Plus: it's time we replaced pixel-counting with something better.

We're back - and perhaps surprisingly, we're not short of tech and gaming news to discuss! While the world - and indeed the DF team - emerges bleary-eyed from the holiday break, the Consumer Electronics Show 2022 managed to offer up a range of interesting topics to discuss, while the whole NFT debate came into sharp focus with a statement from Square-Enix management that the firm would be pursuing the controversial blockchain technology.

Looking at CES, it was something of a curious show, to say the least. On the one-hand, there was actual new product to discuss: AMD revealed the Radeon RX 6500XT and Ryzen 6000 APUs... and we're not entirely sure what to make of them. The APUs certainly look impressive - and it'll be the first time we see RDNA2 graphics tech integrated alongside Zen CPU cores, but AMD itself muddied the waters on the chip's capabilities by comparing a 28W part against a prior generation 15W equivalent. Not surprisingly, the 'gen-on-gen' gains were impressive but fundamentally, the power differential only opens up negative criticism. Similarly, offering performance numbers augmented by FSR upscaling - which rarely impresses at the noted 1080p resolution - only serves to give the impression that the true capabilities of the parts are being unnecessarily obscured.

Nvidia's CES outing was thin on news, but again, there was new product: the long-awaited RTX 3050 is a GPU that should serve 1080p gamers well, while the RTX 3090 Ti looks like being extremely power-heavy, but will undoubtedly push performance higher than we've seen before - but the question is to what extent the gains will actually be worthwhile. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is - as always - price and availability. AMD announced a reasonable-ish $199 price-point for the RX 6500XT but Asus has already confirmed a 'real world' €299, for France, at least. The RTX 3050 should do the job nicely at its advertised $249 but how much will it actually cost? Pricing and availability for any and all GPUs right now is hugely problematic, to the point where the entire PC DIY upgrade market is effectively in a state of paralysis. Why purchase a lovely new Intel Alder Lake or Ryzen 5000 CPU if you can't upgrade your graphics hardware alongside it? Somehow, this needs to be addressed - I genuinely feel that at this point, the enthusiast PC market is losing patience - and hope.

DF Direct Weekly returns for the 43rd edition, the first full episode to kick off 2022.Watch on YouTube
  • 00:00:00 Introductions
  • 00:00:34 CES 2022: OLED & QD-OLED News
  • 00:11:25 CES 2022: AMD & Nvidia Conferences
  • 00:23:48 CES 2022: BMW iX colour changing car & Sony Vision
  • 00:28:08 CES 2022: Intel Conference
  • 00:32:11 Square-Enix announces intent to go into NFT and blockchain
  • 00:40:59 Xbox Dev Mode gets "shut down", but not really
  • 00:45:25 Alan Wake Remastered Adds Auto HDR Support on Xbox Series S/X
  • 00:49:31 DF Content Discussion: 2022 plans and resolutions
  • 01:00:27 DF Content Discussion: Game of the Year selections
  • 01:02:56 DF Supporter Q1: Why do you feel gaming has never taken off on Mac?
  • 01:08:47 DF Supporter Q2: I'm curious if we'll ever see a DF Retro H20 part three?
  • 01:16:18 DF Supporter Q3: What are your thoughts on the current state of AAA gaming, and what are your thoughts on the future of AAA gaming?
  • 01:19:57 DF Supporter Q4: Is it possible that PSVR2 could be the leading platform for the most cutting-edge VR experiences for the next few years?
  • 01:22:26 DF Supporter Q5: From listening to the DF crew talk about ray tracing I gather that it is somewhat of an endgame in terms of real-time lighting techniques. I wonder, is there anything that ray tracing fundamentally can't do?

Elsewhere, the Digital Foundry team discuss their New Year's Resolutions - as they pertain to our work. Mine is pretty straightforward. It's time to bring an end to the era of pixel counting and to shift the focus from numbers that completely disregard reconstruction technologies, replacing this with a testing methodology that attempts to objectively assess image quality rather than base resolutions. I guess the most notable example of pixel counting's irrelevance would be Nvidia DLSS. It's capable of delivering excellent image quality on a 4K display from a 'native resolution' of just 1080p. Knowing it is upscaling from 1080p is more of an academic point as opposed to learning anything objectively useful to the player, or to accurately assess the quality of the presentation. Similarly, when you look at temporal upscaling from Epic, Insomniac, 4A Games and many others, knowing what the internal resolution happens to be is far less useful than judging the result of the developer's intention - to deliver a '4K-like' experience that looks good on an ultra-HD screen.

It's something that we've been discussing for some time now, but I genuinely feel that the techniques and technologies to do this are coming into focus and it's something we're sinking time into - but even if/when a programmatic approach to assessing image quality is possible, it's still going to require subjective analysis from our team, specifically in highlighting weaknesses in reconstruction techniques that may have an impact on your experience. We're hoping to have something to show on this once we go hands-on with Intel's XeSS, which is ripe for comparison with Nvidia's DLSS. One final point I'd like to raise here, though: on a title that doesn't feature temporal upscaling, or doesn't do it very well, or still exhibits standard upscaling artefacts - well, pixel-counting still has a role here. The whole point of the new approach is to address situations where temporal super-sampling so effectively addresses 'traditional' upscaling artefacts, where a clarity measure is more important.

Returning to this week's DF Direct, we also talk a little about Square-Enix's disappointing announcement about embracing NFTs. The conversation has since expanded to encompass fantasy scenarios of content that can be magically ported between games - but so far, nothing we've seen has made the concept of NFTs in any way palatable or desirable for gaming, or even offering anything new or interesting. Moving on, in this week's show, we also talk about some of our 'best of' content we ran over the break, specifically the team's choice of their favourite titles of 2021. My favourite video though? Audi Sorlie put together this entertaining compilation of the best of DF Direct Year One and I had lots of fun revisiting some of those funny/excruciating moments - as chosen by backers of the DF Supporter Program.

Sit back, relax and enjoy an hour's worth of curated 'best bit' moments from DF Direct Weekly: Year One.Watch on YouTube

And it's our supporters that - as ever - provide us with a bunch of questions to address each and every week for DF Direct Weekly. It kicks off with some observations about gaming on Apple Mac, and how the system never seems to enjoy the same kind of support as consoles or PC, despite some excellent hardware. And also, bearing in mind the emergence of unwelcome stuff like NFTs, is there any hope for triple-A gaming or are we starting to see the beginning of the end of the blockbuster single-player game? There's more discussion on PlayStationVR 2, plus a wide-ranging chat about hardware accelerated ray tracing. Is it really the end-game of real-time rendering?

As ever, if you want to get involved, do check out our Patreon! And yes, I should point out that DF Direct Weekly is also available in podcast format on all major services - again, with early access to supporters - so do check that out. See you next week!

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