I still remember the first time I switched from a standard definition TV to an HD one. It was a magical moment. Now, we’re making the leap again with 4K resolutions, and gaming is answering the call. Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) is promising true native 4K resolution when it releases in 2017.
From what we know thus far of the system’s specs, it’s going to have 6 teraflops of power in the GPU. There’s more than a few people who think this is kind of low for the goal Microsoft is shooting for. Join us as we look at the facts and find out if this is something they can achieve.
4K Argument: Can Xbox 2 Do 4K With Only 6 Teraflops?
Before we delve into the nitty gritty details, let’s briefly recap what a teraflop is and what it does. A teraflop is a basic measurement of computational power that is achieved by multiplying the number of shader cores by the clock-speed, multiplying that by 2, and then multiplying the final number by 1 million.
So, for example, the Xbox One has 1.31 teraflops and the PS4 has 1.84 teraflops. This measures the power of the system’s GPU and defines how much it can do in regards to graphics and resolution.
It’s not an end all, be all measurement. Things like memory bandwidth and of course, the other specs, have their own contributions to the equation. That being said, the promise of native 4K resolutions at 6 teraflops has raised eyebrows everywhere since the announcement at E3 2016.
Meanwhile, PlayStation’s architect, Mark Cerny, thinks that it can’t be done without 8 teraflops of power.
So what’s the deal? Can it be done, or is Microsoft pulling some kind of black magic sacrifice to make it all work? Let’s look at the details. Beyond the 6 teraflops of power, Xbox 2/Scorpio is also expected to have a memory bandwidth of 320GB/s.
The easiest explanation for how they’ll achieve this, is by compromising certain graphical effects and quality settings so they can hit the target resolution. In other words, less detail so you can get the 4K image. This leads me to believe that games on Scorpio won’t look all that different than they do on Xbox One; they’ll just be in 4K.
This is further proven by Phil Spencer’s comments from an interview after E3 where he said: “Scorpio is designed as a 4K console, and if you don’t have a 4K TV, the benefit we’ve designed for, you’re not going to see. Clearly you can buy Scorpio, and if and when you decide you want to buy a 4K television to take advantage of the increased performance, obviously the console will be ready for you.”
He did later say that 1080p gamers will notice a performance improvement, but the primary reason for Xbox 2’s existence seems to be 4K. By tapering off the graphical effects and detail, the exchange for 4K could be possible.
To get the answers we need, we can look at comparable PC parts. This isn’t a 1-to-1 comparison, though, as consoles have several unique characteristics that allow developers to squeeze more power out of the hardware.
That being said, a comparable card would be AMD’s R9 390X, which puts out 5.9 teraflops of power. At almost exactly the same specs as Project Scorpio/Xbox 2, it has a tough time hitting even 30 fps on 4K resolutions. Even Nvidia’s GTX 1080 with 9 teraflops has trouble making it all work.
Again, though, developers can do a lot more with console hardware, as recent games have shown. Sony faced a similar issue with PS4 Pro, but they ended up going with an upscaling solution called Checkerboard Rendering that gets images very close to 4K, but not quite.
In the end, it’s certainly possible for Microsoft to make good on these promises. However, they will be using up the vast majority of the system’s horsepower to do so, which brings me to my next point.
Enough About Resolution, We’re Ignoring The Real Issue
The industry seems to infatuated with 4K, and while it’s certainly impressive, both Microsoft and Sony are putting the horse before the cart when it comes to the real issues. No one has ever played a low resolution game that runs horribly on a console and thought to themselves “you know, this would be much more enjoyable if the resolution was higher, but everything else stays the same.”
Yes, our experiences can be improved with higher resolutions, but ultimately a game’s worth is based on performance. 4K doesn’t matter if we can’t achieve stable frame rates, or the glorious 60fps benchmark. Resolution only has a very small effect on overall playability.
We should be focusing on giving developers the hardware resources they need to play games at rock-solid frame rates and full 1080p resolution. We haven’t been able to do that consistently this generation on either platform, let alone Xbox One.
Considering that, let’s seal the deal on this argument and look at the requirements you’ll need to actually perceive a significant difference with 4K:
- Unless you’re sitting 3 feet from the screen, you need at least a 70-inch screen to notice the difference
- As mentioned above, seating distance matters a lot. The smaller the screen, the closer you need to sit to get the full effect.
- Content is slowly coming, but it’s an expensive upgrade and you have to factor in the cost of the new console as well.
In the end, the technology is just too young to be focusing so heavily on it. It’s a nice thought, and the difference is noticeable with features like HDR, but there’s a shocking lack of discussion around important things like frame rate and playability.
What do you think? Does 4K matter to you, or would a compromise in graphics be a dealbreaker? Let us know in the comments!