The big picture: As technologies like Nvidia's DLSS and AMD's FSR allow games to improve performance by generating pixels and frames with AI, some wonder if upscaling is a crutch allowing developers to release unoptimized titles. Nvidia recently countered the assertion, saying the company intends to focus on DLSS and AI for the foreseeable future.

In a lengthy discussion over DLSS and ray tracing technology, Nvidia predicted that the industry will eventually move beyond running games at native resolution. The company sees resolution upscaling as a way of working smarter rather than harder.

Solutions like DLSS, FSR, and XeSS significantly increase framerates while minimizing image quality loss, but users have begun to worry if they will become necessary for good performance. Remnant II set what some consider a dangerous precedent by listing system requirements that assume players are using upscaling. Nvidia launched a defense of this future while promoting its AI technologies.

Digital Foundry and PCMR recently held an in-depth interview with Nvidia and CD Projekt Red, covering the recently unveiled DLSS 3.5 ray reconstruction feature and the new path-tracing update for Cyberpunk 2077. The conversation broached topics such as Nvidia's roadmap and how DLSS impacted Cyberpunk's development.

Nvidia's Bryan Catanzaro said that because of DLSS, rendering at native resolution is no longer best for image or graphical quality. Nvidia and CDPR argue that path tracing alters Cyberpunk's presentation fundamentally and that it's impossible without DLSS. Earlier tests showed the GPU manufacturer's flagship RTX 4090 struggling to reach 30fps at native 4K with path tracing. Furthermore, prior analyses suggest that in certain situations, DLSS 4K quality mode (native 1440p) can outshine native 4K.

Catanzaro likened native resolution to using brute force. He and CDPR's Jakub Knapik explained that graphics rendering has always been full of "cheats" such as mipmapping and Level of Detail. Catanzaro also reiterated Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang's assertion that Moore's Law is dead and that further significant advances necessitate techniques that conserve horsepower.

The company's comments are unsurprising given its heavy investments in the massively profitable AI sector, but game developers' behavior supports the stance. Performance breakdowns show that many major PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X titles upscale from resolutions below 4K, often using FSR. If they do reach native 4K, it's usually at 30fps.

Such behavior predates the emergence of 4K displays and AI-based upscaling. Games from the prior PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 eras typically struggled to reach 1080p, and sub-native resolution games weren't uncommon on earlier consoles. The argument that AI techniques improve developers' ability to compensate for differences in pixel counts is not without merit.