When frames don’t win games

A soldier from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.
digital trends

“Frames win the game.” This is Nvidia’s first marketing campaign targeted at eSports players since the introduction of Nvidia Reflex. It’s a great slogan, catchy with the right amount of truth and a perfect pairing for Nvidia’s RTX technologies. However, in a new age of generated frames, this requires a little context.

Nvidia’s DLSS3 generates frames on RTX 40-series graphics cards, massively improving your performance. However, the trade-off is the increase in latency, which hasn’t been a big deal up to this point. like in sports Ratchet and Clank: Crack Apart And cyberpunk 2077, You don’t have to worry about gaining an edge over the competition. But now, we’re seeing DLSS 3 in a competitive shooter for the first time: call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Originally, the game only included DLSS 3 in the single-player campaign, but after a few days, it was patched to all game modes, including Zombies and multiplayer.

I like to see alternatives for gamers, so don’t misunderstand this column entry as me saying to remove DLSS3. Modern Warfare 3. This is a great tool and should be in the game. But if you plan to compete at a high level in the sport, you need to know the trade you are making by framing. This will only become more important when we start seeing DLSS 3 in additional competitive titles.

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How to win the frame game?

Nvidia's Frames Win Games promotion.

We first need to talk about the idea behind games winning frames because Nvidia has a point with its marketing slogan. Your frame rate is simply a representation of the latency between each frame. If you’re running at 60 frames per second (fps), there’s 16.6 ms between each frame. If you double it to 120 fps, your latency is cut in half to 8.3 ms. With a higher frame rate, you see more information faster, allowing you to react faster in competitive settings.

This isn’t even a high-level theoretical benefit. I saw firsthand how important latency is in Nvidia’s System Latency Challenge in Kovac’s Target Trainer. LTT also ran a test with professional eSports players at different frame rates, showing that the best players hit their shots more often with higher frame rates. Higher frame rates won’t make you a better player, but they will ensure that a great player is performing at his best.

This is the benefit of more frames. But Real The advantage is overall lower latency. There is some latency between frames, but latency across your entire PC can be much more significant. It breaks into two areas. Total is system latency, which is the total time it takes from the time you take an action (like clicking your mouse) until the end result appears on the screen. There’s also PC latency, which is the time it takes from your PC receiving input to sending the frame, ignoring latency from your input devices and your monitor.

A diagram explaining the different types of system latency.

Nvidia also focuses on PC latency with its Reflex feature. It finds optimizations within your PC to ensure that your components are as fast as possible. It doesn’t improve frame rates – that’s tied to Nvidia render latency, the time between each frame – but instead finds optimizations between your components to improve overall PC latency.

Doing all this is important because low latency is important in a competitive gaming context, and tools like Nvidia Reflex, coupled with high frame rates, ensure that your PC’s latency is as low as possible. DLSS 3 frame generation, however, throws a wrench into that plan.

When frames don’t win the game

Performance in Modern Warfare 3 with DLSS frame generation.
Jacob Roach/

I tested modern warfare 3Multiplayer with two GPUs. One was my personal rig with an RTX 4090 and a 3,440 x 1,440 monitor, while the other was an RTX 4060 Ti with a 1080p display. In both cases, I kept the graphics preset at Extreme and enabled DLSS quality mode for upscaling.

In both cases, frame generation provides a sizable boost in performance. With the RTX 4090, it’s delivering a 21% increase, and with the RTX 4060 Ti, we’re looking at an 18% increase. The game was already running at a higher frame rate, but in an era where 360Hz monitors are common for competitive players, these performance improvements are certainly not insignificant. By the logic of “frames win the game”, turning on DLSS frame generation will give you an edge over the competition as we are seeing a higher frame rate. So, why is it not so?

Latency in Modern Warfare 3 with DLSS3 frame generation turned on.
Jacob Roach/

If you expand this graph and look at the average PC latency, in both cases, latency almost doubles when frame generation is turned on, despite the fact that we are seeing a higher frame rate. And when we look at Reflex without frame generation turned on, the difference is even greater. Also note that frame generation forces reflex.

In a competitive setting, it’s quite obvious that you wouldn’t want to turn on frame generation. This average PC latency metric includes render latency – that latency between frames being rendered by your GPU – so the extra frames you’re seeing with frame generation don’t do much. The game looks easy, but from a competitive perspective where you want the lowest latency possible, those extra frames won’t help you win the game.

What’s going on?

So, if frame generation is giving you extra frames, and extra frames reduce latency, why are we seeing an increase with the feature turned on Modern Warfare 3? Well, it depends on how frame generation works, what overhead it requires, and the fact that the frames you see are not actually real.

Let’s start with how frame generation works. If you’re familiar with DLSS3 or AMD’s FSR3, you’ll know that these features insert a generated frame between each rendered frame. The way these features receive information to generate frames is where latency is introduced. Features look at two rendered frames in sequence and use the data to predict what the frame between them will look like.

A chart showing how DLSS reconstructs 3 frames.

In practice, your graphics card renders two frames. His work was completed. You see the first frame, but before you see the second frame, the process of creating the artificial frame must finish, and that frame must be displayed to you. The end result is that you’re seeing the second rendered frame later than usual, creating additional latency. The only case where there wouldn’t be additional latency would be if DLSS frame generation literally doubled your frame rate without any overhead. And even then, this is only to achieve the same latency as you would get with frame generation turned on.

The tricky thing about frame generation is that it hides the overhead required to make it work. If we take the previous results with the RTX 4060 Ti, we’re looking at 147 fps at 1080p. Those are all real, rendered frames. With frame generation, every second frame is generated, so we can halve that final number. With frame generation on, your graphics card is only rendering at 87 fps. The difference between 147 fps and 87 fps represents the overhead frame generation requires.

It’s interesting to point out, but in most games available in DLSS3 this overhead doesn’t matter much. The fact that Nvidia DLSS 3 is able to deliver such high improvements in smoothness while still keeping the game responsive is a miracle. In modern warfare 3, However, if you plan to play competitively you may want to skip frame generation.

Up to this point, we have not seen the technology implemented in a fast-paced, competitive setting. This may be because there are too many competing titles to choose from. overwatch 2, valorant, And League of Legends Not very demanding. However, we are seeing some next-gen titles with a competitive approach, and I think the latency issues we are seeing are modern warfare 3 Will be applicable there also.

A prime example of this is the following decisive, Which is to be launched in December. The game features ray tracing and DLSS3, and it definitely has a competitive angle. Once again, I appreciate the option for gamers who don’t want to sweat to become the best. But for those who want to excel in competitive games, you should turn off DLSS 3.

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