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DF Direct Weekly talks Witcher UE5, PlayStation 5 VRR and FSR 2.0

Plus: does 4K DLSS make any sense for the next generation Switch?

Usually, the weekly Digital Foundry blog that top and fails the publication of DF Direct Weekly aims to offer a little more insight on some of the key discussion points - but this week I can only refer you to the piece I've already written concerning CD Projekt RED's transition from its own proprietary engine to Unreal Engine 5 for the next Witcher title. Still, it's a meaty topic that we cover in depth this week, along with Sony's tentative steps in finally embracing new features in the HDMI 2.1 specification - including variable refresh rate (VRR).

VRR is important in that it puts the GPU in your console in control of when the screen refreshes. So, rather than having the game slavishly adhere to, say, a screen's 60Hz refresh in delivering a new frame, the game can decide instead, opening the door to smooth deliver of arbitrary frame-rates - with no screen-tearing. If a game doesn't lock to 60fps, but instead varies between 50-60fps, the chances are you'll barely notice the difference. Even wider frame-rate windows (eg 45-60fps) can also appear buttery smooth, depending on your perception of timing changes. VRR is also key in making 120Hz gaming work well in a world where titles often operate in an 80-120fps window instead. While PS5 performance has generally been very good, recent titles are starting to demand VRR tech: Elden Ring and last week's Ghostwire: Tokyo to name but two.

It was also a big week thanks to presentations from AMD and Intel about their upcoming smart upscaling techniques, FSR 2.0 and XeSS. There are some important clarifications that need to be made about FSR 2.0. It's being seen as a bespoke AMD technology - something brand new and exciting that might, hopefully make its way to consoles. We're strong advocates of the techniques used in FSR 2.0, but it's important to stress that it's essentially AMD's take on an existing technology that's been used in console titles already, since at least 2016. Arguably, it's longer than that actually - the concept of 'upscaling' with picture information taken from prior frames actually kicked off in 2013 in Killzone Shadow Fall (prompting the infamously ridiculous 'native 1080p' class action lawsuit) and while we don't mention it in the Direct, 2014's Far Cry 4 featured HRAA - another early iteration of the tech. What this means is that FSR 2.0 can indeed be used in any console title and even on Switch - but the question is whether the developers want to use it or whether their own solution may already deliver higher quality.

The 54th DF Direct Weekly, with Rich Leadbetter, Alex Battaglia and John Linneman at the mics.
  • 00:00:00 Introductions
  • 00:00:36 News 01: CD Project RED announces UE5 powered Witcher game
  • 00:18:26 News 02: VRR is coming to PS5
  • 00:28:19 News 03: AMD's FSR 2.0 presentation at GDC
  • 00:33:34 DF Supporter Q: Do you think FSR 2.0 could be used on console as they are AMD powered?
  • 00:45:36 News 04: Unity releases new "Enemies" real time cinematic showcase
  • 00:52:54 News 05: Zelda Ocarina of Time has been decompiled and released publicly
  • 00:56:56 News 06: Nintendo Switch gets "Groups" folder support
  • 00:59:03 DF Supporter Q: Would you still play new PC releases if you didn't review them for a living?
  • 01:03:21 DF Supporter Q: What type of video or content do you dream of making?
  • 01:12:27 DF Supporter Q: Does it make sense for Nintendo to target 4K on the next Switch even with reconstruction?
  • 01:18:03 DF Supporter Q: Can AMD and Nvidia do something to fix the shader compilation issues on PC?
  • 01:22:46 DF Supporter Q: Will you review GTA 5 when it releases on PlayStation 6 and Xbox Series XL?

Intel XeSS? It's the new upscaling technique we're really looking forward to testing out - not just in terms of its quality but also for its compatibility. Despite relying on a neural network for its results (and accelerating this via its own machine learning hardware), XeSS will run on competing GPU architectures, but the question is which cards and how fast will it be? In the Direct, Alex describes how Intel's own figures suggest a 2x performance improvement via AI acceleration, which may mean that XeSS might be too slow to meaningfully upscale from, say, 1440p to 2160p when native 2160p may be the same speed or faster. However, from lower resolutions like 1080p, it may be a different story. Again, we'll be all over this - as well as FSR 2.0 - once the technology is available for testing.

And while we're on the subject of upscaling, an interesting question from one of our supporters concerns the mooted inclusion of Nvidia DLSS in the new Switch. Much has been made of the potential to scale up to 4K, but why target it at all? Isn't that kind of ridiculous for a handheld system? I think the key distinction here isn't that Nintendo will likely target a 4K output, more that DLSS has the power to make low resolution imagery look reasonable on a 4K screen - something that basic low resolution upscaling in the current Switch isn't particularly good at. It's also just a very cool tool for developers to have in their toolkit, generally.

Beyond all of this juicy chat, we cover the amazing Enemies demo from Unity and wonder whether this time, these cutting-edge features may actually transition to games. We also discuss the news of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's PC recompilation project, explaining how the 'clean room' approach to development is entirely legal - but how distributing the fully compiled game with OG Nintendo assets isn't. And yes - shader compilation stutter, the bane of PC gaming right now is (once again) discussed at length. Beyond interventions from the game developers and middleware providers in comprehensively addressing the problem, is there anything that AMD or Nvidia can do to help?

The DF Supporter Program? It's one of the key reasons we made DF Direct Weekly in the first place, to bring the staff and the community closer together. Every week, supporters submit their questions to the team and every week, there's at least a couple of days of early access along with an exclusive supporter podcast RSS feed. And in addition to high quality video downloads for all supporters, there's a bunch of bonus material too - check out our weekly update threads for the details. Join us!

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Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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