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Nvidia patents a special shadow casting technique that could lead to significantly improved area light shadows in certain use cases and situations.

Nvidia has not only made a name for itself by being one of the two customer-centric graphics card manufacturers on the market, but also by focusing on the research and development of a wealth of cutting-edge 3D rendering technologies. From the company’s own ray tracing solution RTX to the backend latency optimization features like Nvidia Reflex.

So it’s not particularly strange that Nvidia is filing an entirely new shadow casting patent which, by the looks of it, may well result in vastly improved area light shadows. Oddly enough, this particular patent describes a new method for rendering shadows: a technique that runs parallel to ray tracing and doesn’t come with nearly as much of a performance hit, although it seems to come with a possible caveat.

In particular, Nvidia used its latest patent to describe voxel cone tracing, VCT. This technique is used by determining four points in a given space, which are then used to determine light occlusion and shadow rendering. While the list of games that make good use of ray tracing is pretty impressive by now, Nvidia’s patent implies shadow casting could be done differently. Namely, while ray tracing requires many area light samples only to yield results that are often visually noisy, VCT is more efficient and visually more striking, with the obvious downside that it may only be used for rectangular lights.

While there are rumors that RTX 4000 GPUs will be significantly faster than anything before it, Nvidia is clearly keen to push the RTX capabilities of its hardware even further. By using VCT to create shadows, developers could use what appear to be cone-shaped light sources, which together would deliver a sharp and realistic shadow with less performance penalty than is currently possible with regular ray tracing.

There’s no doubt that this year’s Nvidia GPUs will set new performance records in ray-tracing rendering, but it’s all but confirmed that the RTX 4000 will be a huge power draw on that front. By rendering a more accurate and lifelike image with reduced rendering costs, Nvidia could potentially look for ways to improve the performance-per-watt of the new GPUs in cutting-edge titles, which is always a good thing.

Some recent reports suggest that Nvidia RTX 4000 is allegedly destroying 3090 in Control, but it’s entirely possible that future tweaks could help even older RTX 3000 and RTX 2000 graphics cards through the use of VCT and other similar techniques stay relevant longer. However, since the patent was filed only recently, it’s likely that voxel cone tracking won’t be used in video games any time soon.

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