DLSS could very well solve the Switch’s biggest problems.
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. When it comes to a new Nintendo Switch model, there’s a lot of smoke – and Nintendo’s past form seems to dictate that now, four years later, we’re fast approaching the time when we expect a new, more powerful revision. of the Switch. We have the smallest in the Switch Lite; it feels like the time is drawing near for the big boy upgrade. Change Pro? great switch?
Whatever the name, the rumors and reports keep pouring in. The latest from Bloomberg has a detail that should pique your interest: the mention of this new Switch model being compatible with DLSS.
Bloomberg insiders also consider the machine to have a new OLED display, a better processor and more memory – all good things that will help rejuvenate a machine that was, let’s be honest, pretty underpowered even at launch. But DLSS is the real potential game changer here.
It’s something that’s already been speculated in detail, like in the Digital Foundry video above, and the tech nerd in me is already absolutely excited about the concept of this feature heading to the Switch. Why? Well, to understand that you have to understand…
What is DLSS?
DLSS is an acronym that stands for Deep Learning Super Sampling, and is a technology that Nvidia has developed and deployed with its newer PC graphics cards. It started on 20-series cards like the RTX 2080 Ti, but is still vital to the performance of the latest models like the RTX 3080, 3070, and 3060ti.
At a basic level, DLSS uses artificial intelligence (hence “Deep Learning”) to render more detailed graphics at a lower cost for the actual hardware in question. It does this by rendering a lower resolution image to begin with, but then lets the AI scale the image, filling in the details lost by rendering at a lower resolution (thus “Super Sampling”).
On PC, you tell the game what resolution you want to see (e.g. 4K), and behind the scenes the DLSS AI makes decisions on what resolution it needs from the game to get a good result at that resolution with the best possible balance between detail and resolution.
The use of artificial intelligence to improve image quality has been a hot topic in video games in recent years. Fans have used similar techniques to scale and create high-resolution versions of pre-rendered pixelated backgrounds from PS1 Final Fantasy games, for example. But so far, DLSS has played its most important role in ensuring that ray tracing can actually work.
While I’m amazed to see any Switch revision adopting it, ray tracing is an easy way to understand just how powerful DLSS can be. Ray tracing is an awesome feature and a major next-gen buzzword, but even with dedicated hardware, such a real-time lighting solution absolutely drags down performance. In some games, I’ve seen performance cut in half. Using DLSS, you can enjoy many ray-traced PC games at 4K resolution and 60 fps. The catch is that it’s not really 4K resolution; more like the game is running at something like 1440p and being upscaled, which in turn balances real-time lighting power consumption.
The truth is that when implemented and executed well, DLSS is so good that it is very, very difficult to discern the differences between DLSS-enhanced 4K and real native 4K as long as the lower resolution source is good enough. To really tell the difference, you’ll have to be some kind of massive graphics savant or have to freeze the frame and break the magnifying glass.
Indeed, in some games DLSS actually provided more detail, with the AI managing to fill in extra detail that wasn’t quite visible when rendering natively. DLSS has become a staple on PC for playing ray-tracing games with a stable frame rate – it’s amazing technology. Developers have to work to incorporate DLSS, but it’s something that’s being increasingly adopted, as seen by the large number of games that use it on PC. One has to imagine that if this becomes a key feature of a piece of Nintendo hardware, most future games will support it.
What DLSS could mean for Switch Pro
DLSS is one of those technologies that, when working, seems almost indistinguishable from magic. For example, your hardware is the same, but you turn it on and suddenly the game runs much better while looking the same or even better. It melts the spirit.
Stop for a moment now and think about what DLSS could do for the Nintendo Switch. This is a machine where games are often rendered at sub-HD resolutions, but then anchored and projected onto 4K screens. A common thread in Switch games is that there is always a compromise; they look better on handheld, helped by the small screen, but play better when docked, as the machine speeds up to use more power.
The report already talks about using the Switch to create 4K images, but I’m thrilled even with the results below. This new model would allegedly have a 720p display, but it would still allow games rendered at 540p to benefit. I think back to Breath of the Wild, which ran at a relatively solid frame rate of 30fps, but used quite aggressive dynamic resolution scaling to achieve this. Although techniques such as scaling are not completely eliminated by DLSS, the scaling work that the AI would do at the end before seeing the final image would eliminate the roughness created by this type of technique. Then yes, it is possible for Switch games to be upscaled to 4K via DLSS.
It won’t make Switch games look like PS5 games, but the results would be impressive. Many of Nintendo’s brightest and most colorful games would probably benefit the most – I bet the Mario games, which are still way upscale, will look bonkers.
DLSS isn’t perfect, and demos of its use on PC can sometimes show it struggling in specific areas (like scaling fine details in hair correctly, for example), but another plus is that it is a software solution. As long as the graphics chip in question is compatible, DLSS can be upgraded. Indeed, we saw a huge leap forward last year with DLSS 2.0, and as a core feature of new graphics cards from Nvidia, this will likely continue.
Either way, the performance that DLSS can deliver is impressive. Take the PC version of Death Stranding, for example: on the weakest of Nvidia’s DLSS-driven 20-series GPUs, this game could run at just over 30fps at 4K by default. Enable DLSS and the frame rate jumps between 50 and 65 fps, depending on whether you’re in the game’s quality or performance modes. That’s an almost 50% performance boost in the lower scenario – and an increase of almost 100% in the upper limits. These are game-changing numbers.
DLSS might sound like a buzzword, and to an extent it is – but make no mistake, the performance boosts it can deliver could be hugely significant for Nintendo Switch games, from less for hardcore gamers. If it’s really included, that alone is enough to make me say that I’ll be there for this new review from day one.