Vulkan gets tools, drivers to bring ray tracing to PS5, Xbox, and AMD

The next generation of real-time visuals is ray tracing, and developers can now turn to the open Vulkan graphics API to bring this tech into their games. The Khronos Group consortium announced today that 3D graphics servicer LunarG released an updated version of the Vulkan Software Development Kit that has a full suite of tools for Vulkan Ray Tracing. This opens up a viable alternative for devs beyond Microsoft’s DirectX to simply and quickly create lifelike lighting in games .

Khronos has previously launched a version of its Vulkan Ray Tracing extension in November. That was an important step due to its compatibility across platforms — whereas DirectX Raytracing (DXR) is only available on PC and Xbox. So Vulkan is an API solution that can run on the dedicated ray-tracing cores in Nvidia’s RTX video cards, or it can run on the general GPU compute units in AMD’s Radeons. That’s doubly important because you’ll find those same AMD compute units in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

But now with the SDK providing a full pipeline for developers, Vulkan Ray Tracing should begin popping up everywhere.

“Shipping API specifications was just the first step in building the developer ecosystem for Vulkan Ray Tracing,” Khronos ray-tracing boss and Nvidia engineer Daniel Koch said. “We now have tools and samples to truly enable developers to tap into the power of cross-platform ray tracing acceleration. One of the key requests from the developer community was the ability to easily bring DXR code to Vulkan. We have achieved that through delivering a carefully designed superset of DXR, and integrating Vulkan Ray Tracing support in the DXC open source HLSL compiler.”

The democratization of Quake II RTX

Up to today, Nvidia has dominated the ray tracing discussion. It has worked hard to make RTX synonymous with the technology. But the reality is that Nvidia operated RTX as a layer on top of Microsoft’s DXR. And while that is great for Windows and for Nvidia, the popularization of ray tracing — which is a true next-gen, computationally expensive lighting tech — relies on its ubiquity. And that’s where the open Vulkan standard is so important.

That’s why you get something like an Nvidia engineer speaking on behalf of The Khronos Group talking about how performant ray tracing isn’t just coming to consoles — but also to AMD Radeon GPUs. It’s also how I end up with a press release in my inbox from Nvidia talking about how Quake II RTX, which it helped to build, is now available “for everyone.”

“By being the first game to support the recently released, platform-agnostic Vulkan Ray Tracing extensions, Quake II RTX should play on any compatible GPU,” reads the Nvidia press release. “Quake II RTX no longer relies on vendor-specific extensions and should play on any compatible GPU.”

Quake II RTX is fully path-traced, which means all of its lighting is done with real-time calculations for how light emits and bounces off of dynamic objects. And both Nvidia and AMD launched new drivers today with the Vulkan Ray Tracing extensions.

Of course, this isn’t some purely magnanimous play by Nvidia. The company’s RTX GPUs are better at ray tracing than AMD’s as of today. And a side-by-side comparison of Quake II RTX using the open Vulkan API can prove that. But ray tracing is still here and working on AMD GPUs, and that expands the market for devs who want to support ray tracing — especially when considering the PS5 and Xbox.

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