Inside Unreal Engine 5: how Epic delivers its generational leap

Epic's reveal of Unreal Engine 5 running in real-time on PlayStation 5 delivered one of the seismic news events of the year and our first real 'taste' of the future of gaming. A true generational leap in terms of sheer density of detail, alongside the complete elimination of LOD pop-in, UE5 adopts a radical approach to processing geometry in combination with advanced global illumination technology. The end result is quite unlike anything we've seen before, but what is the actual nature of the new renderer? How does it deliver this next-gen leap - and are there any drawbacks?

Watching the online reaction to the tech trailer has thrown up some interesting questions but some baffling responses too. The fixation on the main character squeezing through a crevice was particularly puzzling but to make things clear, this is obviously a creative decision, not a means to slow down the character to load in more data - it really is that simple. Meanwhile, the dynamic resolution with a modal 1440p pixel count has also drawn some negative reaction. We have access to 20 uncompressed grabs from the trailer: they defy traditional pixel counting techniques. When the overall presentation looks this good, this detailed, with solid temporal stability (ie, no flicker or shimmer frame to frame), resolution becomes less important - the continuation of a trend we've seen since the arrival of the mid-generation console refreshes. As we said almost two years ago now, next-gen shouldn't be about 'true 4K', the game has moved on and put it frankly - GPU resources are better spent elsewhere.

Some interesting topics have been raised, however. The 'one triangle per pixel' approach of UE5 was demonstrated with 30fps content, so there are questions about how good 60fps content may look. There have also been some interesting points raised about how the system works with dynamic geometry, as well as transparencies like hair or foliage. Memory management is a hot topic too: a big part of the UE5 story is how original, full fidelity assets can be used unaltered, unoptimised, in-game - so how is this processed? This, in turn, raises further questions about the storage streaming bandwidth required, an area where PlayStation 5 excels. So, to what extent is the Lumen in the Land of Nanite tech demo leveraging that immense 5.5GB/s of uncompressed memory bandwidth? Hopefully we'll learn more soon.

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