The Princess and the 1080p

Prior to the announcement of the latest generation of consoles, I have to admit that I was expecting more. Although 4K resolutions will apparently, at least eventually, be possible for movies on both the PS4 and Xbox One, it seems that the elusive 4K resolution for gaming is only going to be found in the next next-generation console castle.

My concern for this does not necessarily come from a need for a vastly increased strain on my eyes, but as a purely console gamer that has had my fill of the antagonising elitism of PC gamers, as the outgoing console generation had been showing it’s age for some time and consoles have struggled to keep up with graphical capabilities of PC counterparts. In previous generations, there has generally been at least a small window of time where console gamers have been able to exhibit superior graphical fidelity, all thanks to, not necessarily superior power, but more commonly due to having hardware dedicated solely to gaming – a factor that I fear we may have lost. Perhaps partly due to consoles now being all-singing, all-dancing media hubs rather than entirely dedicated gaming machines. I fear for the first time ever that we console gamers may be purchasing our way to graphical inferiority from day one.

I will add that I don’t feel that 4K gaming is entirely necessary and worth pointing out than when taking the decision to buy my HDTV — at a time to deliberately coincide with the launch of the first Gears of War — I took the decision that I was satisfied with 720p. That decision still sits fine with me, especially as there were even less games that actually ran in 1080p in the 360/PS3 era than I thought there would be. There were very few occasions when I felt as though I was missing out. I remember Halo 3 coming under fire for having a native resolution lower than 720p, I didn’t care then and I don’t care much now, but I will have to admit that I really expected that 1080p would be the absolute minimum resolution as we move into next-gen.

Call of Duty: Ghosts developers have already been coerced into admitting that the PS4 version runs natively in 1080p while the Xbox One version is upscaled from 720p. A slap in the face for Xbox who claimed that it would run in 1080p on both machines at E3 and are already fighting against claims that the PS4 is the technically superior console.

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While it does seem that many more games, especially going forward, will have a native resolution of 1080p, the current crop of launch titles are being placed under the microscope and reports of lower resolution — including the talk of the odd number of 900p, which I had never heard of previously, are attracting criticism. This seems to become even more of an issue when paired with the great frame rate debate. This is something that I have always struggled to understand, partly as it stands at the forefront of the limits of my technical knowledge, but mostly as I just do not see the problem. Having discussed it with Kev on a recent BRB UK podcast, I now understand the issue a little better, but it is still something I think I would have difficulty clearly identifying. The one factor I do know is that while many people complain about a lower frame rate being an issue (i.e. 30fps as opposed to 60fps) it does seem as though consistency of the same frame rate is a much larger concern for developers, even at the expense of dropping to a lower resolution or target frame rate.

The jump into the HD era was a massive graphical leap in video game technology and I have long suspected that a similar jump would not occur this time around — partly due to games developers still seeming to struggle with the increase in production costs with the move into HD. In a ever more crowded gaming market, filled with mobile distractions, micro-consoles and Steam boxes it is going to be interesting to see how the main console manufacturers market their machines to the general public in the absence of one of their main weapons. If screenshots and gameplay videos won’t help convince people they are missing out, then feature lists and software exclusivity become the all important battlegrounds.

Refresh rates were a big debate as we moved into HD, but it seems that advancements in TV technology seemed to have removed the need to even discuss the issue in this generation. Doing a little reading on how this became a non-issue it seems as though using refresh rates higher than 60Hz actually started to create more problems than it solved. I am beginning to wonder if 4K might also be a step too far. How many K’s do we need people? I can tell the difference between 720p and 1080p, on a good day without the sun in my eyes and the wind behind me, I may even be able to see the difference between 1080i and 1080p, maybe. But I’ve never seen an elephant fly and I’ve never seen a 4K video running on a 4K screen. I realised that my disappointment that video games would not be moving into 4K within this generation is based solely on other people and not anything that I have seen or felt for myself. I am hoping for a fairytale, happy-ever-after style ending to this story and I think that once I am lying on a comfortable bed of Titanfall, Halo 4, Watch_Dogs, next-gen Uncharted and all the other comforts we are yet to uncover, the chances that my gaming slumber will be disturbed by any talk of p’s will be greatly diminished.

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