PlayStation 5: What is ray tracing?

Ray tracing… Sounds like a 60s soul singer. If you’ve been following the PlayStation 5 news over the last few months, you may have seen this phrase pop up time and again as one of the console’s unique selling points.

Yep. Ray tracing. The PS5 has it.

I’m not sure if this post will be of much use to anyone (other than a fun little research project for myself) but for those of us who have no idea what ray tracing is – and why we should care about it – stay tuned.

Now, as the name suggests, much of ray tracing is about light – according to my friend Doctor Google. It’s a rendering technique; it’s to do with how light moves through 3D environments, and how it interacts with the objects it touches. With ray tracing enabled, light behaves more naturally in a 3D environment, and makes the overall scene much sharper, more realistic and more visually impressive. I think.

Did you see the tech demo that Epic Games released? This is a great example of what PlayStation 5’s ray tracing will look like in action…

In this video you’ll also see them showing off the polygons – the millions of triangular objects that are used to build the characters and environments. The intersections of these polygons are called vertices, which dictate shade, colour, and the direction the object is facing. (Interestingly, as you’ll see in the video, some of these polygons are so small that they’re the size of pixels! That’s a lot of vertices…)

Where ray tracing has nothing to do with light, though, is when we come to ‘ray-traced audio,’ which will also be a feature of the PlayStation 5. In this instance, ray tracing is used to more accurately simulate how sound moves within 3D environments, and how it reaches your ears.

The upshot of all this ray-traced goodness, then, is the sense of realisticness you’ll experience in the games (not strictly a scientific term.) With ray tracing, both light and sound will interact with the environments in more realistic and believable ways. So if the aesthetic and the immersion are high up on your list of must-haves for console (or PC) gaming, then you’re gonna want to invest in that ray tracing…!

So there we are. I hope this was somewhat helpful and somewhat accurate! Do leave a comment below if I’ve made a mistake somewhere, or tell me: does ray tracing matter to you? Are you excited for the PlayStation 5? Or are you more interested in the games themselves rather than the visual / audio impressiveness? Let me know in the comments below!

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