Does the Xbox Series X and S Support Ray Tracing?

Since studying game design in university way back in early 2005, I’ve been obsessed with reflections in games. I think it all started when I saw the specular highlights and water reflections in the very first Far Cry game. I couldn’t get over how “realistically” the light from torches bounced off surfaces giving metal and other materials a glow of thier own. Beautiful!

Fast forward a decade or so, and we are witnessing a reflection revolution with the introduction of Ray tracing on high end PC graphics cards.

But that got me thinking:

Would the next Xbox Series X and S support Ray Tracing?

I thought I couldn’t be the only one with this question, so I made some phone calls, typed in some questions on Google, and started formulating an answer.

This is what I found.

Does the Xbox Series X and S support Ray Tracing? Yes, both the Xbox Series X and S supports ray tracing. Both consoles use a custom RDNA 2 GPU designed by AMD. This GPU is equipped with purpose built Ray tracing accelerators that enable Ray tracing in games at playable frame rates.

Now you know both Xbox series X and S support Ray tracing. But there’s so much more to learn. For example, what exactly is raytracing? How does the Xbox Series consoles actually go about supporting Ray tracing? What games support Ray tracing?

All will be answered in the following sections.

What is Ray Tracing and does the Xbox Series S and X support it?

Ray tracing enables the bouncing light realistically from surface to surface. Notice the reflections on the balls. Also look at the ceiling near the green wall. Even thought it’s white it’s taken on a green hue because the light bouncing off the green wall. Image curtesy of BarahaCC BY-SA 4.0

Yes, both the Xbox Series X and S support Ray tracing. But what exactly is Ray tracing? And why is it important for games?

Ray tracing is a method of rendering graphical scenes. Whether they be rendered real time in games or rendered “offline” like in films. Up until a few years ago Ray tracing was confined to pre-rendered scenes found in films, tv, and game cut scenes. It’s only now, with massive improvements in graphical computing power that Ray tracing is entering the realms of real time rendering with games.

Unlike traditional graphical methods that approximates the way light works, Ray tracing aims to simulate the actual physical qualities of light reflection and refraction. It does this by computing the tradjectory of “photons” or rays from a light source, how they interact with the surfaces they hit, and how and when they return to the players eye.

Normally, games fake a lot of graphical techniques to try and achieve a realistic look at playable frame rates.

For example, reflections in games are usually faked using techniques such as screen space reflections. Screen space reflections fake light interacting with surfaces by rendering only what the player can see on screen in the reflective surface. This creates some stunning effects but it does have some major draw backs. For example, imagine playing a game where you are walking along a rain slicked road surrounded by high rise buildings. Looking forward, you can see the reflection of high rise building in puddles. However, if you looked directly down on the floor, all the reflections of the buildings dissolve away because buildings that should be reflected are no longer in the players view and so can’t be rendered.

These disappearing and reappearing reflections break the cohesiveness of the game world.

Ray tracing attempts to solve this problem by reflecting the entire world. Even the world that the player can’t currently see so the game world.

But solving this problem with Ray tracing gives rise to another problem:

Ray tracing is an incredibly computationally expensive graphical rendering method.

A game that runs at 60 FPS using traditional rendering methods would be crippled down to low single figure frame rates by turning on Ray tracing.

This makes the game unplayable.

Fortunatly, the Xbox Seires X and S use a specific graphics chip architecture that enables the acceleration of Ray Tracing in games. This decreases Ray tracing’s computational intensity dramatically, opening up this holy-grail of rendering to games.

How does the xbox Series X and S Do Ray Tracing?

Notice on the right hand side the “Ray Accelerator”. The Xbox Series X has 52 of these Ray tracing accelerators built into its GPU. Though they look small, they are mighty and are responsible for the Xbox Series X and S’ Ray tracing ability’s.

So why can the Xbox series X and S do Ray tracing, yet the older Xbox One can’t?

Well, it all comes down to custom hardware designed to accelerate Ray tracing in games.

Both Series X and S use AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics card architecture.

The CPU and Graphics card nestled inside the Microsoft’s new consoles were designed by Microsoft by AMD. The 12 teraflop RDNA 2 based graphics card, or gpu, in the Xbox Series X is capable of simulating over 380 billion Ray interactions, that’s Ray tracing rays bouncing off surfaces, per second.

The Xbox Series S’ 4 teraflop GPU is capable of about 127 billion Ray traced bounces when compared to the Series X. But that machine is designed to ran at lower resolutions which in turn needs less Ray interactions to achieve the same graphical fidelity.

In short, in the same way that light ‘bounces’ in the real world, the hardware acceleration for ray tracing maps traversal and intersection of light at a rate of up to 380 billion intersections per second.

Richard LeadbetterEurogamer

What does all this mean?

It means that an Xbox Series X game running at 60 frames per second could potentially simulate 6 billion single bounce rays per frame. Or for more realistic lighting, can support 2 billion 3 bounce rays per second.

This is only possible because the of Xbox Series X and S’ use of AMD’s RDNA GPU architecture.

Additionally, the ray tracing acceleration in the XBox Series X and runs concurrently along with the GPU’s traditional rasterising shaders. So, the Xbox Series X has, in theory over 245 teraflops of computing power available to use when using Ray tracing along side traditional graphical rendering techniques.

 “For the Series X, this work is offloaded onto dedicated hardware and the shader can continue to run in parallel with full performance. In other words, Series X can effectively tap the equivalent of well over 25 TFLOPs of performance while ray tracing.”

Andrew Goossen – Techcrunch

Traditional GPU architectures that only support legacy rendering methods such as rasterisation would completely collapse under the weight of the calculations needed to enable Ray tracing.

For example, a GPU without Ray tracing acceleration built into it, such as the GTX1080 to, will render Ray tracing 75% slower compared to a like for like GPU that has Ray tracing accelerators.

These Ray tracing features will help Xbox Series X and S introduce truly next generation graphics that in no way could be achieved on the older Xbox One hardware.

What games on Xbox Series X support Ray Tracing?

Halo infinite will support Ray tracing.

Ray tracing sounds fantastic and all, but what games can you actually play on Xbox Series X to enjoy this new graphical technique.

Since Ray tracing is such a new render method in the game industry, particularly on console, not many games use Ray tracing, yet. But more are in coming.

Here’s a list of games that currently use Ray tracing on Xbox Series X:

  • Bright Memory: Infinite – stunning looking action FPS designed and developed by one man dev team.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War – first person shooter.
  • Call of the Sea – first person puzzle slash exploration game with Lovecraftian themes.
  • Chorus: Rise as One – phycological shooter
  • Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition (Ray tracing Xbox Series X only) – Gothic action adventure game from Capcom.
  • Enlisted – Multiplayer world war 2 game.
  • Forza Motorsport – the number one motorsport game on Xbox.
  • Gears 5 – over the shoulder cover shooter that helped make the original Xbox 360 the number one selling console of its generation.
  • Halo Infinite – the number one FPS franchise on Xbox.
  • Maneater – shark simulator game with an Arcady RPG twist.
  • NBA 2K21 – basket ball game.
  • Observer: System Redux – remake of detective game.
  • Poker Club – poker game.
  • RIDE 4 – motor bike racing game.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 – Semi-open world FPS taking place in the radiated lands surrounding Chernobyl.
  • The Medium – Third-person phycological horror.
  • Watch Dogs Legion – open world urban exploration action game.

Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair, a gaming aficionado since the Commodore 64 era, studied Creative Computer Games Design in university before founding his own gaming company. Discovering a passion for content creation, Nick now helps gamers squeeze every drop of fun out of their favorite gaming hardware

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