Nvidia’s latest GPU driver introduces its new AI-based upscaling technique for making lower-resolution videos streamed offline look better on a high-resolution display. Now available via the GeForce driver 531.18 released on Tuesday, Nvidia’s RTX Video Super Resolution (VSR) successfully cleaned up some of the edges and blockiness of a 480p and 1080p video I watched on Chrome using a 3080 Ti laptop GPU-powered system, but there are caveats.
By Nvidia’s measures, 90 percent of video streamed off the Internet, be it from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Twitch, or elsewhere, is 1080p resolution or lower. For many users, especially those with Nvidia GPU-equipped systems, when moving to 1440p and 4K screens, browsers upscale this content, which can result in image artifacts like soft edges.
Nvidia VSR, which (somehow) shouldn’t be confused with AMD VSR (Virtual Super Resolution, targeting lower-resolution displays), uses the AI and RTX Tensor cores in Nvidia’s 30- and 40-series desktop and mobile GPUs to boost sharpness and eliminate “blocky compression artifacts” when upscaling content to 4K resolution, per a blog post Tuesday by Brian Choi, Nvidia’s Shield TV product manager.
In addition to blockiness, Nvidia’s Choi said that VSR targets “ringing artifacts around edges, washout of high-frequency details, and banding on flat areas—while reducing lost textures.”
The feature currently only works with the latest versions of Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, as it has been incorporated into Chromium. Nvidia said it hasn’t tested the feature with other browsers leveraging Chromium.
Further, support for other GPUs, including the 20-series, isn’t available yet, despite what Tom’s Hardware testing described as a “relatively small” computational workload that the older cards could likely handle. In a support page, Nvidia said VSR support for its 20-series GPUs would come sometime after it refactors “many” of the feature’s algorithms.
A sharper image
I tried watching some lower resolutions on a 4K monitor using VSR (you can bet the fans on my system started loudly revving up) and noticed the improvements when watching very slow-moving video. Keener eyes may be able to keep up more, but extensive testing from Tom’s Hardware also concluded that, while Nvidia’s upscaling technique works “pretty well,” it’s best with videos featuring slower-moving content, like the ones Nvidia has been using for demonstrations. Of course, the experience doesn’t compare with watching native 4K content on a 4K screen.
Nvidia VSR has four levels, and when I used it at its max level on a 1080p video, some details looked sharper. For example, one YouTube video had more well-defined clouds hovering by a mountaintop, and some areas of a large body of water looked less blocky.
When viewing a 1080p show on Netflix in the Chrome browser, it was possible to pick up slight improvements to the clarity of the image—again, if I looked very closely and, especially, if there wasn’t a lot of movement.
But don’t expect the feature to make 480p content look like sharp 4K. The feature faintly reduced some blockiness in a YouTube video of a baseball player slowly swinging his bat, but to the naked eye, it’s not a dramatic improvement.
Of course, your experience will vary, depending on factors like your system and display specs (there are more powerful supported GPUs than the one I used) and the video in question.
For a deeper dive, Tom’s Hardware has an interesting gallery of lossless images. The publication pointed to a noticeable difference from Chrome’s upscaling. Sports videos, for example, didn’t see a “massive improvement, but there’s definitely some sharpening and deblocking that, at least in our subjective view, looks better,” it said.
Performance also varies depending on how big of a jump you’re making. Upscaling from 1080p to 4K, for example, is less taxing than upscaling from lower resolutions. When it came to upscaling 480p video of a soccer game, Tom’s Hardware reported seeing a “ton of detail” lost, like the stands of a soccer net.
For laptop users, using VSR could result in a decrease in battery life, even when not using VSR. That’s because the GPU will automatically start drawing power when the browser is launched. As such, Nvidia recommends using a secondary browser for watching videos with VSR.
Naturally, VSR also eats up some GPU resources (in addition to affecting battery life for laptop users). Nvidia admits to a “slight reduction in performance if playing a game or using GPU intensive creative apps in parallel.”
For more examples, you can check out Nvidia’s demo below, but take it with a grain of salt since it comes from Nvidia and contains very few details.