RTX On: Minecraft’s gorgeous real-time ray tracing is coming this week

After months of teases and previews, the biggest advancement in visual effects in years is finally coming to the biggest PC game ever. Real-time ray tracing is coming to Minecraft for Windows 10 this week, bolstered by Nvidia’s vastly improved Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) 2.0 technology and new physically based materials designed to show off the lighting effects.

We can’t talk about impressions today, but I’ve been playing it, and well, you’re going to want to see it for yourself.

All the new goodies will appear in beta form in Minecraft for Windows 10 on Thursday, April 16. You’ll need Windows 10, a copy of Minecraft from the Microsoft Store, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 20-series graphics card, as those are the only GPUs that include dedicated real-time ray tracing hardware. In the future, the Xbox Series X and AMD’s next-gen “RDNA2” Radeon graphics cards will also support real-time ray tracing.

The older Java-based version of Minecraft isn’t getting the RTX treatment, but if you bought the Java version of the game before October 2018, you can get a free key for the Windows 10 version. Act fast, though, as that offer disappears into the Nether on April 20. You’ll have to register for Minecraft beta builds, too. Here’s how to do so.

618525e8fa4bf1595b4.23189266 temples and totems 1 on Nvidia

It’s worth the effort. Like Quake II RTX, this new-look Minecraft is fully path-traced, meaning that all the lighting in the game comes from ray tracing—shadows, lighting, reflections, materials, you name it. By comparison, the real-time ray tracing in other games thus far take a hybrid approach, applying only a handful of ray-traced effects around traditional rasterized graphics.

Translation: Ray-traced Minecraft looks stunning and behaves realistically, as you can see in the screenshots and videos Nvidia has released thus far. New physically based materials are being introduced in the beta to take full advantage of the technology.

physically based materials minecraft rtx Nvidia

But as anyone who has played Quake II RTX can attest, full path tracing can absolutely melt your graphics card, even in relatively modest games. There’s a reason why real-time ray tracing—the Holy Grail of graphics technology—took so long to manifest, and most games still deploy it only in a handful of ways.

That’s where DLSS 2.0 comes in. The next-gen implementation of DLSS taps into the AI tensor cores embedded inside Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs, combining upscaling with visual enhancements created by machine learning to help games perform much faster than native rendering, with little to no loss in visual quality. Your games look great and run much faster with DLSS 2.0 active. In fact, Nvidia told reporters that activating DLSS 2.0 in Minecraft with ray tracing active can double performance, though the effect can vary from system to system and scene to scene.

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