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Microsoft’s DirectX 12 Ultimate unifies graphics tech for PC gaming and Xbox Series X

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Bringing a suite of software advancements in gaming graphics onto a single platform

Microsoft has a new version of its industry-standard DirectX 12 (DX12) gaming and multimedia graphics technology called DirectX 12 Ultimate, which promises to better unify the feature set and capabilities of Windows gaming with the Xbox platform. It’s not getting a release until later this year, but we can expect it to support the Xbox Series X at launch sometime this holiday season.

DX12 Ultimate isn’t a giant leap over standard DX12, the graphics API first released back in 2014 that this “ultimate” version is building off. But it does bring together a number of software advances — most prominently Ray Tracing 1.1 (which now no longer requires the GPU ping the CPU) — that will make optimizing games for the upcoming Xbox Series X and the latest Nvidia and AMD graphics cards much easier. At the same time, the API is also keeping support for older PC and Xbox hardware intact.

“When gamers purchase PC graphics hardware with the DX12 Ultimate logo or an Xbox Series X, they can do so with the confidence that their hardware is guaranteed to support all next generation graphics hardware features, including DirectX Raytracing, Variable Rate Shading, Mesh Shaders and Sampler Feedback,” reads a Microsoft blog post from principal dev lead Shawn Hargreaves. “This mark of quality ensures stellar ‘future-proof’ feature support for next generation games.”

For regular consumers, none of this will mean that a whole lot is changing, and it’s not going to translate into any immediate and noticeable changes in the graphical quality of existing games. But what it will do is give developers the right tools to ensure everything from next-gen console ray-tracing to variable rate shading on PC using an Nvidia RTX card will be supported on a single platform.

So a game can be optimized using DX12 Ultimate and run on a variety of Xbox devices and both AMD and Nvidia cards. Today, AMD announced support for DX12 Ultimate for its new RDNA 2 GPU architecture underpinning both next-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Unlike Nvidia, which worked more closely with Microsoft on DX12 Ultimate, only newer AMD cards will support it, whereas even older Nvidia GPUs will.

For more in-depth discussions on all of the improvements in DX12 Ultimate, check out Microsoft’s blog post here and Nvidia’s deep dive here. But also just understand that this will, over time, lead to games that look and run better while also more efficiently using limited resources to achieve graphical effects that used to require much higher-end hardware.