How do DLSS and FSR affect image quality?

How do DLSS and FSR affect image quality?

DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) and FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution) are two technologies from NVIDIA and AMD that promise to increase the frame rate in games while improving image quality through upscaling. But to what extent does this increase in resolution, whether with artificial intelligence or trained algorithms, affect image quality?

O FreeGameGuide tested DLSS and FSR on Cyberpunk 2077 e Alan Wake 2 to try to understand how these technologies affect image quality in games in their most varied ways. It is worth mentioning that these two games ran at maximum quality and without the use of Ray Tracing. Furthermore, we run the games at the original resolution of 3440×1440, that is, a kind of Quad HD+.

Test setup

  • Processador: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte AORUS B550i AX PRO
  • RAM: 16 GB (2×8) Corsair Vengeance 2.666 Mhz DDR4
  • Video card: GeForce RTX 4060 ROG Strix
  • Armazenamento: SSD Kingston NV2
  • Cooling: Noctua NH-D15
  • Fonte: Corsair CV600 Series
  • SO: Windows 10 Home

What is DLSS and FSR?

Before starting the image comparison, it is interesting to remember a little about these technologies. Both DLSS and FSR take the game’s native resolution, such as 4K, and reduce it to a lower one from certain modes (Quality, Balanced, Performance and Ultra Performance). When the image is reduced, a series of trained algorithms and/or artificial intelligence are used to reconstruct the remaining pixels back to the original resolution, giving the feeling that we are truly playing in 4K.

The problem is that this doesn’t always work well. Reducing the image to a very low resolution, such as from 4K to HD, creates some deformities, as we will see below:

DLSS and FSR operating modes
Quality It offers better image quality, but little additional performance jump.
Balanced/Balanced Intermediate mode, as it shows good image quality and offers good performance.
Performance It focuses on performance gains and compromises on image quality.
Ultra performance It offers the maximum possible performance through upscaling, but it harms the image.

Native resolution and quality mode

Starting the battery of tests, we compared the native resolution of Cyberpunk 2077 e Alan Wake 2 with the quality mode present in DLSS and FSR. Fulfilling your proposal, it is very difficult to find noticeable graphical differences in games, even with a 100% zoom in on the images.

We purposely chose environments with denser lighting, as this makes it difficult for the player to perceive these details. However, even in brightly lit scenarios, it is very difficult to find visual errors, jagged edges or problems with the depth of objects.

Quality mode fulfills its function well by delivering a level of quality extremely similar to native resolution, even though the difference in frame rate is relatively small. In fact, in certain cases, quality mode can improve the anti-aliasing of the native resolution, such as TAA and FXAA solutions.

This mode can be very interesting for players who already have enough hardware to run in Quad HD or 4K and just need a minimal push to maintain a greater level of frame rate stability. Furthermore, it is also possible to use it in Full HD resolution, although the graphic quality may be worse.

Balanced or balanced mode

Called balanced or balanced, this mode is the middle of the road and ends up being the preferred choice for many users. The reason is evident in the images, since DLSS and FSR increase the frame rate by a certain proportion, but do not present such noticeable visual interference.

Not to say there are no changes to the image, DLSS in balanced mode shows more aliasing defects on the gun tip and the character at the food stand in Cyberpunk 2077. On the other hand, the Balanced FSR revealed a slight visual distortion in the vegetation in Alan Wake 2which appears to have a less pronounced sharpness.

Even so, these problems were only observed by enlarging the images to 100% and pausing the games to observe them closely. When testing in a real gaming scenario, it was not possible to notice anything strange.

Thus, balanced mode becomes an excellent option for higher resolutions, as the difference in image quality will be minimal and there will be a performance increase of around 65%.

Performance and ultra-performance mode

Moving on to the last two modes, here things really get out of control. The performance and ultra-performance modes of DLSS and FSR increase the frame rate considerably, but they can literally ruin your gaming experience if you are demanding with graphics.

These modes already flirt with output resolutions close to HD, especially when we render from Full HD or Quad HD, as is our case. For example, in Alan Wake 2 the native resolution goes from 3440×1440 on our monitor, to 1720×835 in performance mode and 1147×480 in ultra-performance mode. Running any game with a virtual resolution of 480 pixels high is really not recommended.

This creates very annoying problems. In Remedy’s game itself, we can see how objects, textures and effects are blurred, as if they were using an opaque filter. Consequently, the depth of the scene loses expression, as there is less definition for the light and, consequently, the lack of creating realistic shading effects.

Em Cyberpunk 2077, we have two well-defined scenarios to show visual problems, either with DLSS or FSR. The first image, internal, reveals strong aliasing issues in the FSR in ultra-performance mode and a kind of striped pattern in the smoke. DLSS maintains these errors, increasing the stripes in the smoke effect and the aliasing of objects, such as the protagonist’s weapon.

Now, when we go to an external, open and moving scenario, the result is a real disaster. Both technologies do not deal well with low resolution in ultra-performance mode and create a ghosting effect around NPCs, as well as a blur when these characters move away from the scene. These problems are very visible during gameplay and bother those who want a more cinematic experience.

Is it worth using DLSS or FSR at 1080p?

The short answer to that question is no. Using the balanced, performance and ultra-performance modes is not recommended in Full HD, unless your concern is entirely about getting more frames, giving up the quality and visual fidelity of the images.

Quality mode can still be used to improve Full HD gameplay, but that would be the most we could recommend. To give you an idea, balanced mode renders images at 1146×626, that is, a lower resolution than HD.

Less image quality, more FPS

Ultimately, it’s easy to say that DLSS and FSR generate negative visual impacts on games when used at low input resolutions, or when using performance and ultra-performance modes. The best of all worlds, so to speak, is the balanced/balanced mode, as it causes few bad effects and has a notable performance increase.

Even so, ultra-performance mode can increase performance by more than 150%. In situations where the user’s setup is much more modest, this is a very impressive leap, despite the image problems.

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