What Is Meant By Ray Tracing?

Video game graphics have advanced significantly since the golden age of 8-bit gaming. In 2022, PCs and consoles are capable of displaying highly realistic graphics, to the point that games look almost too real. The latest iteration of computer graphics is ray tracing, and it’s slowly becoming the industry standard. If you’ve got a high-end computer, you may have seen “RTX” in the name of your graphics card (GPU), which means ray tracing is enabled on your device. If you want to find out more about the current era of graphics, continue reading.

Ray Tracing: The Basics

Ray tracing is a method used for lighting computer displays. The concept isn’t groundbreaking, but the tech has only recently advanced enough to pull it out of the bag properly.

In the real world, when rays of light enter a dark room, some of them don’t return, which means they’re being blocked by an object; this casts a shadow on the light. This same concept is the same as ray tracing – it’s a technique to light up computer-generated scenes. Ever since Pixar first released Toy Story, ray tracing has been used as a way of animating films. Unfortunately, game consoles and computers haven’t had the power to perform ray tracing. Instead, alternative techniques were used including rasterization.

What is Rasterization

Rasterization is another method of rendering 3D worlds and works on the basis of coloring objects first before applying logic. Ray tracing, on the other hand, colors pixels first and then adds in objects and logic.

Developers need to tweak the effects of rasterization to achieve the desired results, which takes considerable resources to do. For example, pixels in a game belonging to certain objects can be optimized, which brings about the desired effect. Using rasterization in this way means that computers are capable of rendering games without using copious amounts of processing power.

Ray Tracing and the Mainstream Market

Both ray tracing and rasterization can be used to achieve almost the same effect, but ray tracing is much more powerful; you can look at the visual differences here. Rasterization cemented itself as the industry standard for gaming some decades ago, because the hardware suited the budget of the mainstream user.

Ray tracing entered the mainstream in 2018, with Nvidia releasing the GeForce RTX 2080. Not far behind, in 2020, rival manufacturer AMD released their Radeon RX 6000 series. Now, gamers can get their hands on desktops and gaming laptops RTX at a reasonable price.

Ray tracing is a concept that’s been around since the 1990s, with Pixar bringing it to the limelight in 1995, after the release of Toy Story. Unfortunately, the technology available wasn’t powerful or cheap enough to bring the groundbreaking tech to consumers. Instead, rasterization was used to color objects and mimic realistic lighting. Finally, after a couple of decades, ray tracing has entered the mainstream. The question everyone needs to ask themselves now is “Do I really need ray tracing to enjoy the games I play?”.

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