Ray tracing is a cutting-edge technology that has been used in the film industry for decades to create stunning visual effects. In recent years, it has been introduced into the world of video games, first on PCs with DirectX 12 and Nvidia RTX graphic cards and more recently on modern consoles like PS5 and Xbox. In this past year however, Mediatek and Qualcomm have announced they both are working on new ARM chips that will allow android phones to have access to the technology as well. Is that going to be the future of mobile gaming?
What is ray tracing
For those who don’t know what ray tracing is, and think it’s some sort of “magic that makes everything look better” here’s what it is and how it works:
Ray tracing is a technology used in computer graphics to simulate the behavior of light in a 3D scene. It involves tracing the path of light rays as they bounce off objects in a virtual environment, allowing for the creation of highly realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections.
The basic idea behind ray tracing is to simulate the behavior of light by calculating the paths of individual rays as they move through a virtual environment. These rays are traced from a virtual camera or light source, and their paths are calculated as they interact with objects in the scene, bouncing off surfaces and reflecting off other objects.
As each ray intersects with an object, its color and intensity are calculated based on the properties of the surface it has hit, such as its reflectivity or transparency. By repeating this process for each ray in the scene, a highly detailed and realistic image can be generated.
One of the primary reasons why ray tracing is not a good fit for mobile devices is the limited computing power of these devices. Ray tracing requires a significant amount of processing power to simulate the behavior of light in a 3D scene, which is why it is typically performed on powerful desktop computers or gaming consoles. It took NVidia years of research and 2 generations of RTX cards to get games with ray tracing running on a decent framerate at 1080p. Even with specific hardware for it, mobile devices simply does not have the same level of processing power as these devices. Their CPUs are not as powerful as desktop CPUs and their RAM is not as fast as a PC RAM and its shared with the GPU(You can see this article I made that talks a bit about how computers and phones compares in terms of hardware). So even if their integrated GPUs are able to handle the calculations, everything else will end up being a bottleneck.
Furthermore, ray tracing may not be well-suited for the smaller screens found on mobile devices. One of the key advantages of ray tracing is the ability to create incredibly realistic lighting and shadows, which can be particularly impactful on larger screens. However, on smaller screens, the differences between rasterization and ray tracing may not be as noticeable, which can make the additional computational cost of ray tracing less justifiable.
Finally, there’s also another huge problem: batteries. PCs, with exception of laptops, and consoles don’t have those so they don’t need to worry about running out of power. Phones, on the other hand, run on very limited batteries(one of the reasons why they don’t run on the same kind of CPUs as computers do) so forcing it to use absolutely all of its resources to run a game will end up draining the battery in a matter of an hour or two if you’re lucky(and constant draining and recharging of batteries will then lead to a shorter life for it). To add on to that, heat would also be a problem, as consuming battery fast and high usage of CPU will drastically increase the temperature of your device, that has very limited if any cooling capabilities.
In conclusion, while ray tracing is an exciting technology with enormous potential, it is not currently a good fit for mobile devices. The limited computing power, smaller screen sizes, limited batteries, and limited software support make it difficult to achieve the high levels of performance required for ray tracing on mobile devices. As mobile technology continues to evolve however, it is possible that some of these challenges may be overcome in the future(such as higher efficiency allowing for the battery to last longer, and new generations of mobile RAM and CPUs), but only time will be able to tell.