Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding is coming to PC after initially being a console-exclusive for the PlayStation 4. Whilst the PC version remains largely the same apart from a few new graphics options to tweak and some new content, one of the biggest additions is the inclusion of Nvidia's standout technology DLSS.

But what is DLSS exactly? What does it do? And should you turn it on when playing Death Stranding on PC? We've broken down what DLSS actually is, as well as the exact FPS results and performance benefits by turning it on and even some graphics comparisons to see if this tech is worth enabling.

So let's get started in this full DLSS 2.0 performance analysis and graphics comparison article for Death Stranding...

Death Stranding PC performance report and graphics card benchmarks

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Death Stranding full DLSS 2.0 performance analysis and graphics comparison

So Death Stranding's PC version includes DLSS 2.0, but what's the big deal? Does it actually increase performance? How much does it affect image quality anyway? First, let's dive into what DLSS actually is and then we'll move onto the actual FPS performance results and graphics comparison soon.

What is DLSS?

Definition

DLSS is Nvidia's super sampling technology, it literally stands for 'Deep Learning Super Sampling'.

Super sampling itself is the technique of rendering a higher resolution of pixels than a selected resolution.

DLSS comes in by introducing AI into the mix, and it works by training a deep learning neural network on thousands of high resolution images, rendered in a supercomputer offline with 64 samples per pixel and at very low frame rates. This then allows the technology to take low resolution images and render them out in higher resolutions, with a lot of accuracy based on countless hours of training.

That's basically a very fancy way of saying "it upscales images to higher resolutions using AI."

DLSS originally had to be trained on a per-game basis, but DLSS 2.0 differs from it's original by offering a generalized AI network which removes the need to train for each specific game. This means that not only will it provide faster game integration and therefore more titles offered with DLSS, but in the future we may even see the setting added to the Nvidia control panel rather than being implemented into a specific game each time.

DLSS 2.0 also offers a much faster AI model leading to a more efficient use of the RTX card's tensor cores for 2x faster executions, and also means that for the first time this technology can be used in real time. This results in big performance gains with sharper image quality, whilst minimizing temporal artifacts like sparkling as well as ringing.

DLSS also offers several different modes of image quality, including Performance, Balanced, and Quality modes. Though in Death Stranding, only Performance and Quality modes are available right now.

Implementation

So how does this work in-game then? Well say for instance you are playing at 4K: DLSS Performance mode is able to render your native image quality (in this case, 4K) by only using half the pixels (1080p), essentially halving the performance impact of rendering each frame on screen.

So basically, you'll be getting the performance results as if you were playing at 1080p resolution, but with the image quality of 4K resolution. That's a pretty big deal.

Each quality mode offers varying levels of image quality, with performance mode offering 4x super resolution (e.g. 1080p upscaled to 4K) and Quality mode offering 2x (e.g. 1440p upscaled to 4K).

How do I enable DLSS?

DLSS is currently only available on RTX cards, that means the current Turing series and the upcoming Ampere series are the only cards that can take advantage of the technology. This is due to the number of Tensor cores present which offer up to 110 teraflops of dedicated AI horsepower.

If you do not own any of the RTX cards, then currently you are unable to activate DLSS in your games. There is FidelityFX CAS though, which is a lot like DLSS but for non-RTX cards as well.

In terms of actually switching the setting on though? Well, as mentioned previously, DLSS needs to be implemented on a per game basis and is not a universal option you can switch on in the Nvidia Control Panel (though hopefully in the future that will change).

So that means you've got to watch out for games that do include it, because due to the limited number of games using the tech, DLSS is now used as a marketing strategy for those who have the hardware.

When a game does include DLSS, it's usually just a simple option within the graphics settings, allowing you toggle it off, or switch between the various quality modes.

Okay, enough history and context now. Let's get into the nitty gritty stuff shall we? Let's have a look at the performance results when using DLSS 2.0

How does DLSS affect performance?

When enabling DLSS, you are effectively playing at a lower resolution that's been upscaled, so whilst you won't be getting the exact same FPS as you would on a lower resolution, the performance gains are still there. So here's a breakdown of some Death Stranding DLSS 2.0 performance benchmarks with 2 RTX cards on either end of the performance family; the RTX 2060 and the RTX 2080.

Death Stranding RTX 2080 DLSS benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 | Intel i9-9900K | 16GB

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 in Death Stranding @ 4K

4K DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 60.4 86 68.5
Medium 56.6 84.3 67.8
Default 52.2 80.9 69.1
Very High 51.5 80.9 70.9

The FPS performance for the RTX 2080 when comparing DLSS Off, performance mode, and quality mode in 4K is pretty good. If you want to play Death Stranding at the maximum graphics settings with DLSS activated, you'll be able to reach around 80fps with performance mode and 70fps with Quality mode, whilst native 4K will net under 60fps.

So if you want to get above the 60fps mark in Death Stranding, DLSS Quality mode is perfectly suitable to do so. Although, based on how DLSS affects image quality, and the fact that it certainly does not need to play at 60fps in order to feel comfortable, DLSS is not necessarily required when using an RTX 2080 in Death Stranding. If you own a better graphics card than the 2080 then we would recommend just playing at native 4K resolution instead.

Death Stranding RTX 2060 DLSS benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia PNY GeForce RTX 2060 | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 in Death Stranding @ 4K

4K DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 39.4 53.9 51
Medium 37.8 56.8 52.1
Default 36.9 55.2 49.6
Very High 32.5 53.2 48.2

When comparing DLSS Off, performance, and Quality modes in Death Stranding with the RTX 2060, the FPS performance is really good here. Going from 30fps to nearly 60fps at the flip of a switch is nothing short of amazing. If you're running an RTX 2060 card in your PC system then there's pretty much no reason to not turn on DLSS when running at 4K resolution.

Quality mode may net you around the sub-60fps mark, which is not ideal but as we mentioned in our PC performance benchmarks article for Death Stranding, you do not need to run at 60fps exactly for a comfortable experience.

NOTE: looking at the results you can see there's clearly something odd going on with the fps numbers when DLSS is activated. DLSS automatically tries to get the best image quality, but something during the upscaling process introduces some discrepancies in the results. So basically if you're enabling DLSS, you might as well keep it on the highest graphics settings (Very High) as there is little to no difference between the graphical quality presets.

Does DLSS affect image quality?

DLSS 2.0 does somewhat affect image quality in Death Stranding, as an upscaled image from 1080p or even 1440p won't be nearly as sharp as native 4K. But the technology used here is rather quite astonishing as for the most part the difference in quality between native 4K and upscaled 1080p/1440p is almost negligible.

DLSS also struggles to properly upscale small particle effects from lower resolutions, resulting in often blurry and not so sharp particle effects. In Death Stranding this is most notable when it rains, but in our experience Quality mode was understandably a lot better, but the effect didn't detract from our enjoyable experiences in the game. If the strange artifacts and blurring bothers you, it might be best to play at native 1440p instead of 4K DLSS, but the bottom line is that this down to personal preference.

As a reminder:

4K DLSS Quality mode = 1440p upscaled to 4K

4K DLSS Performance mode = 1080p upscaled to 4K

Now let's take a look at the image quality differences between DLSS Performance and Quality mode in Death Stranding.

(Oh, and please excuse the weird warping effect going on at the left side of the frames, Sam just really liked to ever so slightly move every time I took a picture which caused the camera to gently move as well).

4K DLSS 2.0 Off vs Quality

At Quality mode, the difference between DLSS off is almost non-existent, there's pretty much no difference here between native 4K and 4K DLSS upscaled from 1440p. You'd have to squint really hard here to see any sort of difference, but by that time you'll be pixel hunting which at 4K will need a strong magnifying glass.

Obviously, a 4K image now downscaled back to a lower resolution to fit on a web page isn't going to give you the full effect. But trust me when I say that turning DLSS to Quality mode at 4K barely makes an impact on image quality, and I certainly didn't even notice it.

4K DLSS 2.0 Off vs Performance

The performance mode for DLSS 2.0 in Death Stranding is a little bit more noticeable, but again it's rather hard to see. As mentioned above with particles, this will be the most obvious giveaway compared to Quality mode. But you can definitely see that there's a tiny bit of clarity lost when DLSS is set to Performance mode in Death Stranding.

In my opinion though this wasn't entirely noticeable, and the difference between Performance and Quality mode is very little. If you need to enable performance mode in order to squeeze out a few more frames for 60fps gameplay, then you won't be missing out on much at all compared to Quality mode.

4K DLSS 2.0 Performance vs Quality

Finally we have a comparison between Performance and Quality mode with 4K DLSS, in order to see if there's a real difference between the two.

Looking at the character model, you can see that Quality mode is just a tad bit sharper and clearer than Performance mode. But if you look anywhere else in the comparison, there's not a huge amount of difference. Some edges of rocks will be a bit more clear, but the differences are very small.

Really, I'd boil this all down to personal preference to be honest, with Quality mode being the clear best contender obviously. But if you need to gain

Does DLSS work on lower resolutions?

Now this is where things get a bit a bit... funky. DLSS technically does work on lower resolutions, but it's really complicated across different games. Some titles will only allow a certain group of the RTX lineup to run DLSS at certain resolutions. If you're gaming at 4K resolution it doesn't matter, all RTX cards will be able to run DLSS.

However, for instance Battlefield V includes the DLSS technology, but if you want to enable it at 1440p you can only use an RTX 2080 or lower. Similarly, if you want to enable it at 1080p, then only the RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 can enable DLSS.

Death Stranding fortunately doesn't seem to have this restriction, or at least not that we could find, as the RTX 2080 was able to run DLSS at 1080p.

These restrictions were previously put in place because, according to Nvidia, enabling DLSS actually takes a fixed amount of time for each frame. So as your card's performance increases then DLSS starts to take up a lot more rendering time on your GPU, so much so that on much faster cards it actually begins to take longer than at the native resolution.

We did find some odd discrepancies below though, especially with the RTX 2060 when running DLSS at lower resolutions. Though, as many of you pointed out already in the Death Stranding PC performance benchmarks article: there may be a CPU bottleneck going on with the Core i7-3770K setup with the RTX 2060, so it's possible this is why we saw such odd results coming from a weaker card. So keep that in mind when looking at the results below.

But first, let's start off with the RTX 2080 DLSS 2.0 FPS performance results in Death Stranding...

Death Stranding RTX 2080 DLSS benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 | Intel i9-9900K | 16GB

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 in Death Stranding @ 1080p

1080p DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 132.4 142.9 137.2
Medium 126.4 138.8 139.6
Default 123.4 126.9 124.1
Very High 124.6 127.1 124.7

The RTX 2080's FPS performance in Death Stranding when enabling DLSS at 1080p is rather underwhelming. In terms of actual FPS gains, performance mode barely gets more frames compared to the native 1080p, and Quality mode hardly changes at all.

At 1080p, DLSS is not recommended when using an RTX 2080, and is better suited at a native 1080p resolution. You do get a bit of sharpening that makes the image a bit crisper when enabling DLSS, but with the the low performance gains turning on DLSS at this resolution is purely personal preference.

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 in Death Stranding @ 1440p

1440p DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 99.4 129.6 127.1
Medium 97.3 134.9 125
Default 87 127.9 115.1
Very High 78.5 128.4 106.5

At 1440p, the FPS performance of the RTX 2080 with DLSS 2.0 enabled is better than before, gaining around 30-50 fps in performance mode depending on your graphics quality settings, and around 20-30fps on Quality mode.

Honestly, at 1440p with DLSS off you are getting around 80-100fps overall and so enabling DLSS for the performance gains is a bit overkill. Much like with 1080p this will be down to personal preference again, but our recommendation is to once again keep it at native 1440p in Death Stranding.

Death Stranding RTX 2060 DLSS benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on Nvidia PNY GeForce RTX 2060 | Intel i7-3770K | 8GB

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 in Death Stranding @ 1080p

1080p DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 80.4 68 66.7
Medium 77.2 67.9 63.9
Default 75.5 69.2 64.9
Very High 69.8 63.9 63.8

The FPS performance for the RTX 2060 in Death Stranding when enabling DLSS at 1080p is rather alarming. At this resolution we're actually seeing the FPS drop quite significantly when DLSS is turned on to either performance or quality mode.

As many of you pointed out in the PC performance benchmarks article for Death Stranding, there is a possible CPU bottleneck going on here, and with DLSS actually requiring some time to use the neural network technology, this is probably why we are seeing the performance drop when DLSS is activated. Though we would love to hear your thoughts on this in the discussion area below!

Average FPS with DLSS enabled for Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 in Death Stranding @ 1440p

1440p DLSS Off DLSS (Performance) DLSS (Quality)
Low 74.9 62.8 61.2
Medium 72.8 64.3 63.2
Default 69.8 62.3 61.3
Very High 67.1 60.5 60.1

Again, the same thing is happening here as with 1080p above, where the FPS performance for the RTX 2060 actually decreases when enabling DLSS at 1440p resolution, dropping around 10-15fps depending on the setting.

Overall, if you have a similar setup to ours here, we don't recommend enabling DLSS at 1080p or 1440p with an RTX 2060 GPU in Death Stranding. 4K resolution sees the real benefit of this technology.

Death Stranding 1080p & 1440p DLSS graphics comparison

For these images below we compare the image quality of DLSS quality mode in Death Stranding at 1080p and 1440p, to get a sense of how the graphical fidelity is affected by the DLSS.

1080p DLSS 2.0 Off vs Quality

Amazingly, at 1080p you can see that DLSS actually produces a much sharper image in Quality mode than native 1080p, you can see this most clearly in the tufts of grass on the left as well as the textures on rocks and Sam's character model.

1440p DLSS 2.0 Off vs Quality

At 1440p the effect is less noticeable, but it is still certainly sharper with DLSS Quality mode compared to native 1440p. You can see this again in the tufts of grass on the left, the textures on the rocks, and the character model detail of Sam.

Death Stranding DLSS 2.0 performance roundup

Okay so what's left? Well, I wanted to get an FPS average of each DLSS option in order to create a handy table that shows the percentage performance impact for each DLSS option at each resolution. The results are quite interesting, but they at least give us a quick glance at how much DLSS is actually increasing performance here.

DLSS percentage performance impact RTX 2080:

DLSS Performance Quality
1080p 5.7% 3.71%
1440p 43.79% 30.78%
4K 40.48% 25.19%

The DLSS performance impact for the RTX 2080 is rather interesting. Here, the 1440p resolution actually gets more frames than when enabling the technology at 4K instead, with a near 15% decrease in performance benefits when switching from Performance to Quality mode. Though admittedly, native 4K was only barely able to render 50-60fps and got a 25-40% performance increase by enabling DLSS, whilst native 1440p comfortably ran at around 80-100fps without DLSS enabled.

1080p also gets an ever so slight boost with DLSS activated, it's not much, but considering that native 1080p with an RTX 2080 gets 120fps+ there's no point in enabling DLSS at this resolution, as the slight downgrade in image quality is not worth the 3-5% extra frames.

DLSS percentage performance impact RTX 2060:

DLSS Performance Quality
1080p -11.19% -14.39%
1440p -12.19% -13.63%
4K 49.45% 37.04%

So as you can see, with our setup the RTX 2060 actually performed around 10-15% worse than native 1440p or native 1080p. However, at 4K this resulted in a nearly 50% fps increase overall in performance mode and a 37% fps increase in Quality mode.

For the mainstream RTX 2060 card that's a pretty substantial boost in frame rate, especially if it gets you close or even above the 60fps mark. But it's probably not worth enabling the feature when at 1080p or even 1440p resolution as it seems to actually decrease performance at that point. I'm not sure whether this is a CPU bottleneck issue, but it's worth noting for sure.

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Conclusion

Nvidia's DLSS technology is great for squeezing out some extra fps for your games, but the full benefits come from playing at higher resolutions like 1440p and 4K, which can often mean going from an uncomfortable 30fps to a smooth 60fps at the press of a button, even on the lowest mainstream card the RTX 2060.

Whenever enabling DLSS in Death Stranding, we recommend sticking all the graphics settings at the highest option, since there doesn't seem to be a significant improvement in changing between Low and Ultra graphics presets.

It also seems that the higher the performance of your card, the less beneficial it is to enable DLSS at lower resolutions. With 1080p resolution being pretty much useless to use DLSS, as the performance impact at this resolution is not worth the adjustment in image quality.

Currently we can only recommend using DLSS for 1440p and upwards, just make sure if you're using an RTX 2060 or something similar to our setup that 1440p DLSS isn't actually decreasing performance for you.

Despite the potential bottlenecking issue going on, the results clearly speak for themselves: DLSS can substantially improve performance without sacrificing much image quality.

DLSS could certainly mean the future for frame rate performance, especially considering that ray tracing is a very demanding technology already and next-gen games are only going to get better at high fidelity graphics.

Plus, since there is almost no loss in image quality when switching to quality mode, there's pretty much no reason at all to not turn the setting on if you're running at 4K. Death Stranding is arguably meant to be played at 4K resolution, so being able to run at those high settings with a comfortable and stable frame rate is honestly amazing.