PC video games come with a host of graphics settings that allow users to tweak the visuals of the games to their liking. This is what PC gaming enthusiasts cite as their platform’s only advantage over consoles – the ability to be flexible in terms of how your gaming experience looks and performs.
Most of the time, these graphics settings come in four levels: low, medium, high, and ultra. But it’s the ultra graphics that will be the subject of this article, and whether they’re really worth using.
Loyalty against performance
It’s the right balance that all PC gamers try to achieve. Ultra-smooth frame rates (especially on a high refresh rate monitor) are good, along with excellent visual fidelity. But which one should you really be trying to achieve?
Going for ultra settings gives you the best looking game possible. That’s it. But the thing is, these settings can be very demanding, which would lead to a drop in game performance. And depending on the game, the visual improvements from high to ultra are barely noticeable, while performance suffers in the background.
Photo taken from the Halo Infinite Steam page
TechSpot took a closer look at a total of eight games in their Ultra Graphics settings. What they discovered is that with the highest graphics presets, the differences in visual quality are only noticeable if you actively seek them out. But if you’re actually playing through the game, it doesn’t really matter.
Frame rates, on the other hand, can be hit hard. A few peripheral games like “Hitman 3” saw only 5% performance from high to ultra settings, while something like “Watch Dogs Legion” saw a 47% performance boost doing the same .
Here’s a video covering all the games TechSpot tested, courtesy of the Hardware Unboxed YouTube channel. Here you can see the tests in much more detail, but the fact remains: trading performance against visual fidelity in games doesn’t seem to pay off as much:
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Why do games come with Ultra settings, then?
In another Linus Tech Tips video, they asked a few people to determine which version of a game was best on different graphics settings. One ran at maximum visual fidelity, while the other was at a more modest setting. What they found was that almost no one noticed a difference in how the game looked.
For now, the ultra graphics settings are mostly up to the developers. If they really want to make a game that actually looks amazing, they’ll have to push the most capable hardware. However, the problem is that most people can’t even afford the aforementioned hardware, especially now (thanks, global chip shortage).
On video games and ray tracing
Ray tracing is perhaps the most demanding visual trick when it comes to PC and console gaming. Simply put, enabling ray tracing is now more or less part of the ultra graphics settings (or Performance mode in current-gen consoles) in most new games.
(Photo: Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Living room with Microsoft Xbox Series X (L) and Sony PlayStation 5 video game consoles next to a TV and soundbar, taken on November 3, 2020.
However, this setting is so demanding on the hardware that even NVIDIA and AMD have had to come up with solutions to ensure that gamers who want to use it will still have playable frame rates. Enter Team Green’s DLSS and Team Red’s FidelityFX, which provide better performance even if you increase the graphics settings.
The ray tracing looks amazing. But just like with ultra settings versus high settings, almost all gamers struggle to tell the difference. Add to that the fact that it can literally cut your game’s frame rate in half, and you’ll see the problem.
It’s all up to you, unfortunately.
Whether you focus on visual fidelity or performance in your games is ultimately entirely up to you. Higher frame rates will allow for a much smoother and more responsive gaming experience. But the visual quality pushes the known limits of the game to date.
Would you rather halve your game performance by going to ultra settings, or just stick to high or medium (which doesn’t look that different anyway) and watch your game run just as well what about butter? Choose your poison.
Related article: Explanation of video game graphics options (ambient occlusion, anti-aliasing, VSync, etc.)
This article belongs to Tech Times
Written by RJ Pierce
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