There has been a trend in the last few years of PC game titles becoming more mobile-like and mobile titles becoming more PC-like, so the lines have been blurred quite a bit. We’ve already seen features like ray tracing and variable rate shading migrate from the PC onto mobile platforms like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.
However, one of the unique features of PC titles has been some form of image upscaling that allows the GPU to render the game at a lower resolution and then upscale it to a higher resolution to save on rendering overhead. This feature is commonly known in the PC world as FSR on AMD GPUs, XeSS on Intel GPUs and DLSS on Nvidia GPUs. Important to note: not all of these super-sampling methods are the same.
Snapdragon Game Super Resolution (GSR)
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to these different upscaling techniques is that there is a sliding scale between performance and quality. Many super sampling techniques usually have a performance, balanced, and quality setting that bridge those three parts of the spectrum between performance and quality. On the PC side, consumers have control of the quality and performance settings depending on personal preferences, and they can even completely turn these features off if they choose to.
However, one of the key requirements for enabling such a feature is that the game engine and the developer both need to support and optimize for upscaling to maximize performance and quality. This is because the upscaler is sourcing from a much lower resolution, and many techniques use bilinear interpolation which is a simple way of upscaling using the four nearest pixels to estimate a pixel between them and can be used for both upscaling and downscaling an image. However, because not all types of upscaling work the same, some techniques use multiple render passes or have specific input requirements. Others require specific hardware like tensor cores to accelerate the inference process.
Snapdragon GSR is a feature that is part of Qualcomm’s suite of desktop-like gaming features for mobile called Snapdragon Elite Gaming. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon GSR is designed for mobile devices, as such, it uses a single render pass to accomplish its upscaling which yields a lower latency, higher performance solution at lower power. Qualcomm claims it is the first single-pass solution in the mobile and XR gaming market, and says that it is already available for key partners to utilize in their games.
As both a mobile gaming and XR technology, Snapdragon GSR can upscale 540p content up to 1080p, 720p content to 1440p (the most common resolution on gaming phones) or even from 1080p to 4K for XR headsets. When applied correctly, this inherently improves the frame rate and power consumption from the GPU because it requires less GPU and memory utilization to render at a lower resolution. This can also result in better battery life or visual fidelity while preserving the same frame rate.
Qualcomm says that games that once ran at only 30 frames per second (fps) can now run at 60 fps or higher, which makes a big difference when you consider that most gaming phones have 144-hertz displays and most XR titles are recommended to run at 90 fps or higher.
Qualcomm provided the above graph on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 to demonstrate its performance uplift in comparison to a competitor’s upscaling solution. Qualcomm says that Snapdragon GSR runs on many different Adreno GPUs, which go as low as the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1. The company also explains that it can run Snapdragon GSR with upscaling and edge sharpening in a single pass, which reduces latency and memory bus usage, thereby reducing power consumption and increasing speed.
Qualcomm also says that its technology uses fewer ALU (arithmetic logic unit) instructions and texture samples than its competitors, improving shader processor utilization and yielding lower frame times and less power consumption. Qualcomm is working with a much tighter power budget than many of the competing solutions, so as usual Qualcomm’s power-first approach also yields great performance improvements.
While these performance improvements can be quite impressive, their actual implementation is what’s the most important, and developers must be on board for this to work. Qualcomm has already gotten a long list of well-established titles and developers on board with Snapdragon GSR, which will help it gain momentum considering that it is such a developer-dependent feature.
Qualcomm says that Activision is already using Snapdragon GSR to enhance one of its most popular franchises for— Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile—with increased frame rate, sharper graphics, and extended battery life. Even some of the biggest game publishers in China, including Perfect World, Tencent and NetEase, are on board, with some of their biggest titles showing significant performance improvements while maintaining the same or better image quality. Qualcomm even has Farming Simulator developer GIANTS Software talking about how they achieved a 1.7x upscale using Snapdragon GSR, improving Farming Simulator 23 Mobile’s frame rate from 17 fps to 30 fps.
With Snapdragon GSR, Qualcomm continues to build a more substantial and complete suite of mobile gaming features that is undoubtedly leading the industry. I believe that Qualcomm’s power-first approach will help elevate the gaming capabilities of smartphones as well as its many XR platforms, which depend on higher frame rates and lower power consumption to improve the user experience. With platforms like the Snapdragon AR2 being so focused on power consumption, it’s a no-brainer that Snapdragon GSR will improve the AR and XR experience for developers and gamers.
Qualcomm already has some of the world’s biggest game publishers on board with some of their biggest mobile titles, adopting Snapdragon GSR to improve frame rates and image quality. I believe that we will probably see this feature make its way into even more titles as more developers become aware of the capabilities of the Snapdragon GSR. I’m excited to experience these games using my Red Magic 8 Pro phone, specifically built for gaming with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen inside.