Last week, Epic Games, in partnership with Nvidia, launched Unreal Engine 5 for early access, along with an example project for developers to explore, known as Valley of the Ancients. Nanite, an attempt to provide similar detail to infinity, and Lumen, a state-of-the-art global lighting system, are essential to UE5. According to the project’s creators, the highest “epic” graphics settings aim at 1080p at 30 frames per second on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. A completely new technique known as Temporal Super Resolution (TSR) offers a 4K display without clever upscaling. While we’ve just used UE5 on PC now, we have some early thoughts and preliminary performance metrics.
The critical thing to know here is that the first early access version of UE5 has absolutely nothing to impede anybody from downloading it and doing it for free. Although this is an incomplete rendering of the code, it is worth keeping in mind that the following are still missing: major features, optimizations, and more. The Valley of the Ancient download project, including the engine download itself, needs a separate 100GB download. This is utilizing raw assets, and as a result, the compiled version (which doesn’t use raw assets) is roughly 25GB in size. Our demo material is rather basic, and there is a demonstration of an RTX 3080 on the subsequent page. You get a mixture of exploration aspects and a boss encounter to demonstrate how well Nanite can execute an expansive open world.
Some people have raised doubts at the thought of this being a 1080p30 presentation. However, UE5 is running an epic setting, and Lumen is around twice as heavy on performance compared to the PS5 demo we saw earlier this year (which operated at circa 1400p). Additional overhead may also be generated by stacking multiple separate Nanite meshes to construct the environment. While TSR does give an excellent upscaling solution, the picture doesn’t quite come out as clear and sharp as when upscaled to 4K, but it is significantly superior to what you get from the 1080p original output. There has been some assumption that this new demo is a “downgrade” from last year’s PS5 demo, but Karis, the Graphics Engineering Fellow at Epic, says this is untrue.
After this hands-on exercise, what conclusions can we draw? Nanite works. One of the most impressive features of the tool is that you can pull the camera as close as you like to any in-game item and the detail level is remarkable. However, if separate assets have varying degrees of geometric or texture density, then the assets might vary in quality if they’re exhibited near together. While the degree of detail present in Nanite is considerable, I believe the lack of LOD pop-in is what I think stands out. At the moment, I’ve not had much time to focus on Lumen since it’s still in its formative stages, but you can see in the video above some fantastic light bounce effects.
This technology is innovative, yet it will undoubtedly come at a cost. Even a maxed-out RTX 3090 can’t play the demo at 60 frames per second in 1080p with unlocked clocks up to 4K. In terms of raw processing power, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 performs slightly short of 60fps, although higher-end PC components can achieve this.
And yet, common GPUs like the RTX 2060 Super and the RX 5700 could often provide frame rates north of 30fps, while the RTX 2070 Super was much more demanding. The test was performed on a Razer gaming laptop equipped with an RTX 2070 (similar overall performance to a desktop RTX 2060, but more RAM). On that system, the test also passed 1080p30, a native 1080p without the need for TSR. For the most part, I think this concept can scale, although it’s hard to know whether it will work at 60 frames per second with current technology.
One can tell that Unreal Engine 5 is only getting started, but it’s exciting to see the studio boldly raising the visual bar in several areas. The UE5 Early Access edition is strongly suggested for those with technical aptitude; it’s an enjoyable exercise to try with the Valley of the Ancients project. To see what the project looks like, check out the demo grab that runs on RTX 3090. However, in the future, we are interested in how Lumen and Nanite appear in actual games, as shown by the developers working on UE5 titles, such as Ninja Theory and The Coalition.