DLSS? FSR? Microsoft aims to end the PC gaming upscaling wars with “DirectSR”

Estimated read time 3 min read

Midrange GPUs like AMD's Radeon RX 7600 or Nvidia's GeForce RTX 4060 can benefit a lot from DLSS and FSR upscaling, which can improve image quality and framerates beyond what the hardware can render natively.
Enlarge / Midrange GPUs like AMD’s Radeon RX 7600 or Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4060 can benefit a lot from DLSS and FSR upscaling, which can improve image quality and framerates beyond what the hardware can render natively.

Andrew Cunningham

One of the most interesting developments in 3D gaming in the last half-decade or so is the advent of advanced upscaling technologies—features like Nvidia’s Deep-Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), and Intel’s Xe Super Sampling (XeSS). These technologies all aim to provide better, sharper image quality when playing at non-native resolutions, and when they’re working well, they can boost frame rates and help squeeze a bit more life out of an older or lower-end GPU.

The problem has been that it’s incumbent on developers to support each individual upscaling technology in each of their games, and that not all graphics hardware supports the same upscaling capabilities. DLSS usually looks a bit better than FSR, but it requires an Nvidia GPU; FSR works on just about anything but doesn’t look quite as good. (Intel’s XeSS exists somewhere in the middle, in that it works with any modern GPU but looks best when it can leverage Intel’s GPU hardware.)

Microsoft is stepping in to try to straighten up this muddle of conceptually similar, executionally different technologies with a new API called DirectSR (the SR is for Super Resolution). The new API was announced in a blog post about Microsoft’s 2024 Game Developers Conference sessions, and it was developed by Microsoft “in partnership with GPU hardware vendors.”

DirectSR isn’t a competing upscaling standard so much as it is “a common set of inputs and outputs, allowing a single code path to activate a variety of solutions,” according to Microsoft Program Manager Joshua Tucker. In other words, developers will no longer have to add DLSS, FSR, or XeSS support to their games separately—they’ll just target DirectSR, which will then use whatever upscaling technology works best on your hardware behind the scenes.

This could help to resolve the drama that periodically crops up when a new AAA game supports one upscaling technology but not the others, as happened last year when Bethesda’s Starfield launched with support for AMD’s FSR but not Nvidia’s DLSS. Bethesda did eventually add official DLSS support a couple of months after the game launched, but not before modders created an unofficial workaround.

It will still be your GPU maker’s job to keep improving their own upscaling technology, and Microsoft’s DirectSR announcement makes no mention of frame-generation technology like Nvidia’s DLSS 3 or AMD’s Fluid Motion Frames. Even if DirectSR is widely adopted, there may still be GPU-specific features that game developers need to support individually.

The DirectSR news follows the appearance of a hidden “Automatic Super Resolution” feature that popped up in preview builds of Windows 11 earlier this month. It’s a toggle in the Windows Settings app that can “make supported games play more smoothly with enhanced details,” and it can be set either universally or on a per-game basis. It’s not clear whether this toggle is directly related to DirectSR, but a “more about Auto SR” link does lead to the same DirectX developer blog that Microsoft used for the DirectSR announcement.

For developers looking for more information about DirectSR and other DirectX technologies, Microsoft is hosting a DirectX State of the Union session at GDC on March 21. For non-attendees, these sessions are generally recorded and uploaded to the GDC Vault after the fact.

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