Nvidia DLSS on Nioh 2: the biggest AI upscaling challenge?

Nvidia DLSS on Nioh 2: the biggest AI upscaling challenge?

Nvidia DLSS on Nioh 2

Nvidia's DLSS has gradually evolved into one of the most fascinating technological innovations in the PC world. The idea is extraordinarily simple: the GPU renders at a lower native resolution, and then an AI-driven algorithm performs intelligent upscaling for higher pixel count frames.

The performances benefit enormously from this type of technique but also the general quality of the images is significantly higher than the traditional rendering. In the past we have wondered if this quality improvement could also mitigate the visual artifacts resulting from temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) but the recent arrival of a DLSS patch for Nioh 2 seems to dispel any doubts.

The standard rendering of Nioh 2, in fact, did not have any form of anti-aliasing: the images were presented in the most 'raw' version possible. The question, then, is this: can DLSS maintain a performance advantage while delivering a real boost in image quality? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

DLSS was (and essentially still is today) an alternative to TAA. Temporal anti-aliasing, in essence, uses information from previous frames and integrates it into that of the current frame, typically using displacement vectors to determine where to place the pixels of the old frames in the frames being processed. In ideal situations, this is a useful technique to improve image quality and is certainly the go-to choice for anti-aliasing in modern video games. The TAA, however, has its flaws, including ghosting and excessive blurring in some situations.

A detailed analysis of Nioh 2's DLSS: Will AI upscaling outperform native resolution rendering without TAA?

Watch on YouTube. The DLSS has several points in common with the TAA, which is why it is considered as a valid alternative: it too relies on data deriving from displacement vectors to reconstruct the images. The DLSS performance mode starts from a base of about 25% of the native resolution (for which a 4K image is built on the basis of a native 1080p frame) while the quality mode uses 1440p frames. The balanced option, on the other hand, sits somewhere in between the other two.

As for the benefits in terms of performance, the effect on the Nioh 2 is extraordinary. Nvidia's RTX 2060 is the least powerful DLSS-capable GPU on the market but, again, the performance mode offers a 50% higher frame-rate while the quality mode stops at 32%. In all likelihood, however, the best result for this GPU is to be found in the rendering at 1440p: in this field the DLSS quality mode can easily manage the game at a granite 60fps. The top of the range (RTX 3080 and 3090), on the other hand, manage to offer a 4K gaming experience at over 100fps, a truly extraordinary presentation on suitable screens. Since Nioh 2 doesn't support TAA, how does visual quality change?

Most of our comparisons are done in 4K to effectively compare native resolution to DLSS quality mode and the results are generally astounding . The edges of the native presentation have been completely smoothed out while the level of detail has remained intact. The boost in image quality is due to the fact that DLSS is a very effective anti-aliasing solution as opposed to the native version of Nioh 2 which includes a basic, almost non-existent post-processing system. On the go, all this is even more visible: without an effective anti-aliasing solution it is inevitable to incur some shimmering phenomena during gameplay. The DLSS, in this sense, provides a much more convincing experience, in line with what is seen in the other titles that support this technology: a quality higher than the native one in almost all situations. From this test, therefore, we have obtained a very important notion: DLSS does not offer a concrete advantage only in titles that include a valid solution of temporal anti-aliasing but also in games that are almost totally devoid of it.

At the standard distance from the screen, the biggest difference between DLSS and native resolution is the improved anti-aliasing found in the DLSS solution. Even at 1080p the reconstruction is quite faithful. The quality mode is upscaled from 720p while the performance mode starts from a base of 540p! In short, Nioh 2 is another title in which the use of DLSS is absolutely recommended although, it must be said, there are a couple of defects that jump to the eye after a more careful inspection. The vegetation moved by the wind, for example, can present some slight ghosting phenomena while in the background it is possible to notice some strange graphic artifacts. The most visible problem, however, concerns the distant textures that are displayed at a lower resolution than the native one.

It all comes down to selecting the mip-maps. A texture in a game has many low-resolution versions of itself called mip-maps. They exist for many reasons, one of which is to reduce distance shimmering and aliasing. Put simply, rendering a high-resolution texture in an area with a low pixel count creates noticeable shimmer - there are more details but not enough pixels to reproduce them at their best, resulting in flickering effects. The solution is to switch to lower quality textures, to lower resolution mip-maps. As the resolution increases, more pixels are available to present detail, so higher quality mip-maps are used.

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However, at least in Nioh 2, the selection of mip-map is based on the internal resolution of the DLSS, not on the output resolution, resulting in a visibly lower texture detail in more distant portions of scenery. Thankfully, as the video on this page shows, accessing Nvidia Profile Inspector and changing the mip-map selection to a negative value essentially solves the problem.

So how should DLSS be employed? This goes for all titles that use this technology, not just Nioh 2: the higher the output resolution, the less improvement you get from the higher quality modes of DLSS, at least in our opinion. If you're playing in 4K, the DLSS performance mode which renders native at 1080p definitely makes a lot more sense. On the other side of the coin, DLSS with 1080p output still offers a somewhat enjoyable experience in performance mode but we recommend that you opt for quality mode to get a 'better than native resolution' effect. If you feel that the image is blurry at 1080p or any other resolution, we recommend that you adjust the mip-maps via Nvidia Profile Inspector.

Summing up, the experience on Nioh 2 proves that DLSS it can offer similar quality to native rendering but with a much superior anti-aliasing solution. It is good to keep this concept in mind: AI is starting to play an increasingly important role in consumer technology and DLSS is just the tip of the iceberg of what it can do in the field of gaming. You can rest assured that Nvidia won't stop there.

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