Nothing makes me laugh more than the ongoing obsession with the Xbox One’s difficulties rendering games at a full 1080p resolution.
Gaming forums are full of scathing comments from PS4 fan boys about how the Xbox One delivering a number of its games with resolutions a few lines less than 1080 proves Microsoft MSFT -0.69%’s console is rubbish. Even the editorial sections of most gaming sites have fallen prey to navel gazing and technical over-analysis on the same subject.
What every single person who gets caught up in these hilariously petty arguments fails to recognise is that actually the PS4 and Xbox One are both past their sell by dates. In fact, they’ve been living on borrowed time from the very day they launched. Why? Because neither of them truly support 4K.
This argument might initially seem a stretch to ‘normal’ people not involved day to day in the inner workings of the AV industry. But I’m confident that within as little as 12 months most of you will agree that their inability to deliver games at a ‘4K’ or Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution of 3840×2160 pixels – or something close to it, at least – will make both the supposedly ‘next generation’ consoles feel like yesterday’s news.
The main reason I say this is the exceptional speed with which 4K screens are being produced and adopted. On the production side, at the time of writing Amazon already lists nearly 60 4K/UHD TVs starting from as little as $339, and I’ve spoken to a number of people working in TV hardware production who foresee a situation where possibly by the end of 2015 and almost certainly by the end of 2016 it will difficult to buy a decent big-screen TV that doesn’t carry a native 4K resolution.
It’s not just the manufacturers saying this, either. For instance, AV industry legend Joe Kane, of Joe Kane Productions, stated during a presentation at the recent IFA technology show in Berlin that ‘a year or two from now you won’t be able to buy a 1080p TV.’
Where sales are concerned, 4K TVs have already achieved a 6% global sales penetration despite currently costing considerably more than 1080p TVs. And with 4K prices plummeting daily and 4K panels rapidly supplanting 1080p ones on shop shelves, this 4K penetration figure is going to explode in the next 12-24 months. Far faster, I suggest, than the (in any case impressive) rates of 4K market penetration predicted recently by the likes of the Digitimes Research Group.
What we’re very soon going to have, then, is a situation where console gamers – many of whom tend to be early adopters of new TV technologies, don’t forget – are having to play 1080p (at best) games on 4K screens. This will quickly start to create a sense of frustration for players, especially given the obvious obsession in a large section of the gaming fraternity with resolution and graphical capabilities.
This frustrating feeling that their games console – a device which has historically led technology rather than falling behind it – is already outmoded will be exacerbated by the appearance of other native 4K sources in the next 12-24 months. For while as I discussed in a previous feature there are currently technical hurdles to delivering 4K in to the home (at least at the sort of astounding quality it’s capable of), by Christmas 2015 it now looks like there will at the very least be 4K streaming services from Netflix NFLX +0.05%, Amazon, and Nanotech, as well as 4K Blu-ray discs (as officially revealed last week by the Blu-ray Disc Association). There may even be a 4K broadcast or two.
In other words, 4K TV owners will soon have access to enough 4K sources to constantly highlight the lack of such quality coming from their games console.
There’s also a potential practical as well as ‘aesthetic’ problem with only gaming at 1080p on a 4K TV: input lag. I’ve covered this before in a separate article so I won’t go into detail again here. But in simple terms I’ve found that some 4K TVs take longer to render HD pictures received from gaming consoles than native 1080p TVs do, presumably because of the processing required to convert 1080p feeds to the 4K TV’s much higher resolution. Of course, wherever you’ve got any delay in pictures appearing on a TV screen, you’ve got a greater chance of, say, getting beaten to a pulp in Destiny. Ouch.
Even the makers of the Xbox One and PS4 acknowledge that 4K is a big deal. Ahead of each console’s launch last year speakers for both Microsoft and Sonywere falling over themselves to try and suggest that their consoles would handle some sorts of 4K content – be it their interfaces, their streaming capabilities or even, particularly optimistically, their Blu-ray drives. But it’s all gone very quiet on this since, and it seems to me there are huge hurdles to the consoles delivering on all but the smallest of their 4K promises.
As for 4K gaming, as you might expect given the theme of this article, it’s a bust. Sony has flat-out said as much, and while Microsoft has been cagier about it – in fact, a handily unnamed Microsoft ‘representative’ even toldPolygon last year that Xbox One games WOULD support native 4K – the fact that the console is struggling to run games in 1080p makes the notion of native 4K gaming on it seem laughable, frankly.
It’s argued (though I’ll believe it when I see it) that both consoles may be able to output games upsaled from HD to 4K. But even if this proves possible it’s no replacement for a true source-to-screen 4K experience.
The bottom line is that Microsoft and Sony got so caught up in the race to be first to market with a ‘next generation’ console that they failed to actually deliver a truly next generation console. Seriously, in all honesty how many of you have sat there jaw agape with amazement at what a huge step forward your PS4 or Xbox One is over its predecessor? Not many I’ll warrant. And before anyone tries to suggest that gaming is what matters, not graphics, I refer you to any gaming forum you care to mention to find out the grim pixel-based truth of the matter.
Even if Microsoft and Sony had waited just one more year before bringing their new consoles to market there’d have been at least half a chance we’d have ended up with genuine next-generation products that might have enjoyed lifespans at least in line with those of the Xbox 360 and PS3.
As it is we’re stuck with consoles that will both feel seriously underpowered by many of their users by as early as the end of next year, creating a level of frustration that both Microsoft and Sony will likely feel motivated to address with new products sooner rather than later.
At which point it’s probably best that I sign off, as I’ve suddenly started to feel a very unhelpful urge to mention that Japanese broadcaster NHK actually filmed some of the recent World Cup in Brazil in 8K…