Today, the GPU Pro blog posted a very interesting article about a novel technique which seamlessly unifies rasterization and ray tracing based rendering for fully dynamic scenes. The technique entitled "Object-order Ray Tracing for Fully Dynamic Scenes" will be described in the upcoming GPU Pro 5 book (to be released on March 25, 2014 during the GDC conference) and was developed by Tobias Zirr, Hauke Rehfeld and Carsten Dachsbacher .
Abstract (taken from http://cg.ibds.kit.edu/ORTFDS.php)
This article presents a method for tracing incoherent secondary rays that integrates well with existing rasterization-based real-time rendering engines. In particular, it requires only linear scene access and supports fully dynamic scene geometry. All parts of the method that work with scene geometry are implemented in the standard graphics pipeline. Thus, the ability to generate, transform and animate geometry via shaders is fully retained. Our method does not distinguish between static and dynamic geometry. Moreover, shading can share the same material system that is used in a deferred shading rasterizer. Consequently, our method allows for a unified rendering architecture that supports both rasterization and ray tracing. The more expensive ray tracing can easily be restricted to complex phenomena that require it, such as reflections and refractions on arbitrarily shaped scene geometry. Steps in rendering that do not require the tracing of incoherent rays with arbitrary origins can be dealt with using rasterization as usual.
This is to my knowledge the first practical implementation of the so-called hybrid rendering technique which mixes ray tracing and rasterization by plugging a ray tracer in an existing rasterization based rendering framework and sharing the traditional graphics pipeline. Since no game developer in his right mind will switch to pure ray tracing overnight, this seems to be the most sensible and commercially viable approach to introduce real ray traced high quality reflections of dynamic objects into game engines in the short term, without having to resort to complicated hacks like screen space raytracing for reflections (as seen in e.g. Killzone Shadow Fall, UE4 tech demos and CryEngine) or cubemap arrays, which never really look right and come with a lot of limitations and artifacts. For example, in this screenshot of the new technique you can see the reflection of the sky, which would simply be impossible with screen space reflections from this camera angle:
Probably the best thing about this technique is that it works with fully dynamic geometry (accelerating ray intersections by coarsely voxelizing the scene) and - judging from the abstract - with dynamically tesselated geometry as well, which is a huge advantage for DX11 based game engines. It's very likely that the PS4 is capable of real-time raytraced reflections using this technique and when optimized, it could not only be used for rendering reflections and refractions, but for very high quality soft shadows and ambient occlusion as well.
The ultimate next step would be global illumination with path tracing for dynamic scenes, which is a definite possibility on very high end hardware, especially when combined with another technique from a very freshly released paper (by Ulbrich, Novak, Rehfeld and Dachsbacher) entitled Progressive Visibility Caching for Fast Indirect Illumination which promises a 5x speedup for real-time progressively path traced GI by cleverly caching diffuse and glossy interreflections (a video can be found here). Incredibly exciting if true!