Ray tracing is the latest generation of rendering technology to bring real-time graphics closer to photorealism. High-end hardware is needed to make it work well, but if you’ve got a PC to run it, there’s nothing like its visual flair.
Even Minecraft, known for its retro-style blocky 3D worlds, hasn’t escaped the glare of ray tracing. It’s not enabled by default, but you’re in for a magical moment if you have the right hardware.
First, what is generally known as real-time ray tracing in games is a more advanced approach known as path tracing. The general idea between the two is the same, but the math used in routing makes the final image better. For this article, we’ll stick to “ray tracing,” but the term “path tracing” is worth knowing because it comes up repeatedly in discussions of modern graphics.
For a deeper dive into this technology, see What is Ray Tracing? & What are Path Tracing and Ray Tracing?
In Minecraft, ray tracing makes Minecraft more photorealistic. The light is simulated to act as it does in real life. Object textures in Minecraft have also been replaced with PBR (Physically Based Rendering) materials with ray tracing mode turned on. In other words, the wood has the optical characteristics of wood. The metal acts as it should, and so on.
The result is a Minecraft world with reflections, shadows, and lighting that looks more like a real-world Minecraft diorama than a video game. It has to be seen to be believed, so feast your eyes on these screenshots.
Incredible true? If you’re interested in entering the world of ray-traced Minecraft for yourself, let’s start by checking if your system meets the minimum requirements.
To use ray tracing mode in Minecraft, you must meet the following requirements:
- Windows 10 or 11 64-bit
- GPU Nvidia RTX or Radeon RX 6000 or higher
- Intel Core i5 equivalent or better
- 8 GB of RAM (most recommended)
Only the Bedrock edition of Minecraft supports ray tracing at the time of this writing. This version is also known as Windows 10 Edition, but it works just as well on Windows 11. The Java version of Minecraft, which is still immensely popular, does not support ray tracing.
While the Radeon RX 6000 series cards support hardware-accelerated ray tracing, they don’t have dedicated hardware like Nvidia’s RTX cards. If you have a lower-end RX 6000 GPU, you might run into some performance issues with ray tracing in Minecraft, especially if you crank up the details.
You should also note that the Bedrock Edition of Minecraft is available through Xbox Game Pass for PC or Game Pass Ultimate. If this is your first time subscribing, you can usually get the first month for a dollar to try it out and see if it works for you. There is no need to purchase the Bedrock Edition if you purchased the Java Edition in the past, unless you don’t want to play through Game Pass.
The first thing you need to do is update your GPU drivers to the latest version. It’s also a good idea to update Windows if there are pending updates. Buy Minecraft Bedrock Edition in the Microsoft Store app or install it from the Xbox app if you’re a Game Pass subscriber.
Once you launch the game, you will need to sign in with your Microsoft account. If you’re already signed in through Windows, this should happen automatically.
- if you open Settings > Video and scroll down the list of settings, you will see ray tracing with a toggle switch in the menu. However, this option is grayed out and you cannot turn it on.
- To enable it, you will need a ray tracing compatible resource pack that contains the appropriate types of textures and lighting settings. So go back to the main menu and open Market.
- In the market, you can find both paid and free content. You will also find both types of ray tracing packages. Select the magnifying glass to open the search bar and type “ray tracing” where it says Enter search here.
- At the top of the results should be several packages created by Nvidia, which makes RTX GPUs. You will notice that the thumbnails have the RTX logoalthough third-party packages may not.
- For this tutorial, we will be using Imagination Island RTX. Select the button that says Free to claim the package. Then wait for the purchase to complete.
- Next select Discharge.
- Select Discharge again in the next window to confirm.
- Wait for the download to complete. You can’t do anything else while this is happening.
- After the download is complete, select Create this world! then choose To create either Create on Realms Server if you want to do an online session.
- Wait for the resource pack to load. If you get a warning about the online game being unrated, please check Do not show this screen again and then select Proceed.
Wait for the world generation process to complete and you should appear in the game.
If the game still looks like normal Minecraft, go back to the main menu. Then select Settings > Video and toggle the Ray tracing switch to the on position. Your screen may briefly flicker while the game world is re-rendered.
Things should now look dramatically different. Welcome to the world of Minecraft with ray tracing!
If you want to go back to a ray traced world, all you have to do is select New Game from the main menu and then choose an RTX world from the list.
Unlike games like Cyberpunk 2077, there isn’t much you can adjust to the ray tracing settings in Minecraft. The only things you have control over are Ray Tracing Render Distance and Upscaling.
As the name suggests, the render distance determines how far away the distance rays are traced. Beyond the render distance you set, no ray tracing is applied. Therefore, distant objects may not be reflected by shiny surfaces near you. The higher this setting, the more spectacular the graphics will look, especially in sunlit outdoor areas.
Eight “chunks” away are the default setting and the minimum. We suggest raising this one level at a time until the game is no longer playable or becomes unstable. Don’t worry. You can’t break anything. The worst that can happen is that the game crashes and you will know how far you can take your system.
Upscaling simply means that the game is rendered below your screen’s native resolution and then upscaled. This is a great way to improve performance, and Minecraft scales well thanks to its chunky nature, so turn it on if your framerate is low.
Ray Tracing for Minecraft on Xbox Series X
Although Microsoft has demonstrated a ray traced version of Minecraft running on Xbox Series X, as of this writing, there’s no indication of it becoming an official feature. If you want Minecraft with ray tracing, the only place is a PC running Bedrock Edition.
Not everyone is in a position to buy the latest GPU, or maybe you prefer the Java edition of Minecraft, which lacks the microtransactions and crashes of Windows 10 and 11.
While you can’t get actual ray tracing, there are plenty of alternative shader packs you can download to drastically change the look of the game.
“Shaders” refers to pixel shaders, which are special graphics programs that help determine the exact color and brightness value each pixel in the game should have. There are shaders to make things look wet and shaders to make things light or in shadow. There are shaders for anything you want to achieve on a computer screen.
While traditional shader-based graphics don’t look as good as ray tracing, you can get pretty close! There are many options, and this is not a guide to alternative shaders in Minecraft. However, a great place to start is with alternate shaders and Optifine. YouTuber Daniel Plays has a excellent tutorial which guides players through this moderately technical process.