During the international games industry show, Gamescom, in Cologne, Germany this week, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang took the covers off the company’s newest GPU architecture aimed at enthusiast PC gamers. Codenamed Turing and taking the brand of GeForce RTX, the shift represents quite a bit more than just an upgrade in performance or better power efficiency. This generation NVIDIA is attempting to change the story with fundamentally changed rendering techniques, capabilities, and yes, prices.
At its heart, Turing and GeForce RTX include upgrades to the core functional units of the GPU. Based on a very similar structure to previous generations, Turing will improve performance in traditional and current gaming titles with core tweaks, memory adjustments, and more. Expect something on the order of 1.5x or so. We’ll have more details on that later in September.
The biggest news is the inclusion of dedicated processing units for ray tracing and artificial intelligence. Much like the Volta GPUs that are being utilized in the data center for deep learning applications, Turning includes Tensor Cores that accelerate matrix math functions necessary for deep learning models. New RT cores, a first for NVIDIA in any market, are responsible for improving performance of traversing ray structures to allow real-time ray tracing an order of magnitude faster than current cards.
Both of these new features will require developer integration to really take advantage of them, but NVIDIA has momentum building with key games and applications already on the docket. Both Battlefield V and Shadow of the Tomb Raider were demoed during Jensen’s Gamescom keynote. Ray tracing augments standard rasterization rendering in both games to create amazing new levels of detail in reflections, shadows, and lighting.
AI integration, for now, is limited to a new feature called DLSS that uses AI inference locally on the GeForce RTX Tensor Cores to improve image quality of the game in real-time. This capability is trained by NVIDIA (on its deep learning super computers) using the best quality reference images from the game itself, a service provided by NVIDIA to its game partners that directly benefits the gamer.
There are significant opportunities for AI integration in gaming that could be addressed by NVIDIA or other technology companies. Obvious examples would include compute-controlled character action and decision making, material creation, and even animation generation. We are in the nascent stages of how AI will improve nearly every aspect of computing, and gaming is no different.
Pricing for the new GeForce RTX cards definitely raised some eyebrows in the community. NVIDIA is launching this new family at a higher starting price point than the GTX 10-series launched just over two years ago. The flagship model (RTX 2080 Ti) will start at $999 while the lowest priced model announced this week (RTX 2070) comes in at $499. This represents an increase of $400 at the high-end of the space and $200 at the bottom.
From its view, NVIDIA believes the combination of performance and new features that RTX offers gamers in the space is worth the price being asked. As the leader in the PC gaming and graphics space, the company has a pedigree that is unmatched by primary competitor AMD, and thus far, NVIDIA’s pricing strategy has worked for them.
In the end, the market will determine if NVIDIA is correct. Though there are always initial complaints from consumers when the latest iteration of their favorite technology is released with a higher price tag that last year’s model, the truth will be seen in the sales. Are the cards selling out? Is there inventory holding on physical and virtual shelves? It will take some months for this settle out as the initial wave of buyers and excitement comes down from its peak.
NVIDIA is taking a page from Apple in this play. Apple has bucked the trend that says every new chip or device released needs to be cheaper than the model that preceded it, instead increasing prices on last year’s iPhone X and finding that the ASP (average sales price) jumped by $124 in its most recent quarter. NVIDIA sees its products in the same light: providing the best features with the best performance, and thus, worthy of the elevated price.
The new GeForce RTX family of graphics cards is going to be a big moment for the world of PC gaming and likely other segments of the market. If NVIDIA is successful with its feature integration, partnerships, and consumer acceptance, it sets the stage for others to come into the market with a similar mindset on pricing. The technology itself is impressive in person and proves the company’s leadership in graphics technology, despite the extreme attention that it gets for AI and data center products. Adoption, sales, and excitement in the coming weeks will start to tell us if NVIDIA is able to pull it all off.