Windows 10: Movie-grade, real-time 3D graphics near with DirectX Raytracing API

Microsoft preps Windows 10 for a new paradigm of 3D graphics with its new API for GPU-based 3D rendering.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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Microsoft is making Windows 10 friendlier to gaming developers like Valve and Steam, after its Windows 8 "catastrophe" left the gaming world in the lurch.

The Redmond company has announced a new DirectX Windows application programming interface (API) that brings GPU-accelerated 'raytracing' to DirectX 12, its set of graphics APIs for developers that build games and videos for Xbox and Windows.

The new API should help Microsoft's Windows 10-driven efforts establish an ecosystem of cheaper VR alternatives to Oculus Rift, and support its goal of boosting consumer gaming content on the Microsoft Store through partnerships with the likes of Steam. Microsoft is also pushing its HoloLens headset and third-party headsets for business applications.

Microsoft claims its technology will overhaul a technique created in the 1990s for rendering 3D images on screen known as rasterization -- a workaround to the challenge of creating 3D images on a flat screen.

In recent years rasterization has been propped up by parallax mapping and screen-space reflection (SSR) for extra reality, but Microsoft thinks raytracing will usher in a new paradigm for 3D effects that, thanks to Nvidia's GPUs, can more efficiently use real-world data to improve rasterization.

The new raytracing API is a stepping stone to using all 3D data in the world to render 3D images rather than just rasterization's 2D-derived representations of the 3D world.

Microsoft has also released a YouTube clip showing the API's 3D potential with SEED's Halcyon engine and raytracing using Nvidia Volta GPUs.

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"By allowing traversal of a full 3D representation of the game world, DirectX Raytracing allows current rendering techniques such as SSR to naturally and efficiently fill the gaps left by rasterization, and opens the door to an entirely new class of techniques that have never been achieved in a real-time game," writes Matt Sandy, a program manager on Microsoft's Direct3D team.

Microsoft has also released a new experimental version of PIX, an Xbox debugging tool for DirectX 12-built games that was expanded to Windows last January.

'PIX 1803.16-raytracing' on Windows now includes experimental support for DirectX Raytracing or DXR. The updated version will help Windows games developers analyze raytracing rendering.

"Raytracing is an upcoming Windows 10 feature and a new paradigm for both DirectX and PIX on Windows and consequently we plan to evolve PIX on Windows significantly in this area based on input from developers," Microsoft wrote in a blog post.

Microsoft appears to want to manage developers' expectations about raytracing, noting in many cases it will merely complement rasterization.

"DXR will initially be used to supplement current rendering techniques such as screen space reflections, for example, to fill in data from geometry that's either occluded or off-screen. This will lead to a material increase in visual quality for these effects in the near future," writes Sandy.

"Over the next several years, however, we expect an increase in utilization of DXR for techniques that are simply impractical for rasterization, such as true global illumination. Eventually, raytracing may completely replace rasterization as the standard algorithm for rendering 3D scenes.

"That said, until everyone has a light-field display on their desk, rasterization will continue to be an excellent match for the common case of rendering content to a flat grid of square pixels, supplemented by raytracing for true 3D effects."

Microsoft says it has been working with hardware vendors over the past year for DirectX Raytracing support and notes that developers won't need specific hardware support to use DirectX Raytracing.

It's also worked with major gaming platforms including Electronic Arts and Unity Technologies during the development of the API.


Microsoft says PIX for Windows will support the DirectX Raytracing API as soon as the API is released.

Image: Microsoft

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