4K Gaming: Are consoles ready for it?

- Prajesh Sjb Rana

Jan 10, 2017-PC Gamers with beefy computers and interlinked video cards have always berated the lack of proper gaming hardware on gaming consoles. Consoles usually can’t compete with high-performance computers in regards to gaming hardware because consoles makers have always been in favour of providing a competitive gaming device at a reasonable rate. Because consoles need to be accessible to a wider audience, including a segment of the population who might not be tech savvy, their manufactures have always focused more on providing an easy gaming experience for their users. PC Gamers, on the other hand, tend to tinker around with their machines, adding various different cards and modules for the best experience that they can achieve on their machines.

In their search for the best gaming experience, PC Gamers have managed to equip their computers with dual high-performance gaming graphics cards that can render games in UltraHD 4K. 4K gaming has already managed to spark intensive conversations in the online gaming community with PC gamers lauding their machine’s 4K gaming capabilities. As a response to the popularisation of 4K gaming, two major gaming console manufactures, Microsoft and Sony, announced improved versions of their consoles. These improved versions flaunted 4K and improved high-dynamic range gaming at a slightly higher price point. Microsoft released their improved Xbox One S in August of last year and Sony followed suit with the release of the PlayStation 4 Pro in November.

But with the release of both of these consoles, the question of are they really powerful enough to run 4K gaming lingers. Even PC gamers have been having trouble getting their machines to render games in 4K solely because 4K gaming is extremely intensive on the hardware. During HD gaming, graphics cards churn out a 1920 x 1080 image on screen but as soon as you go 4K, the graphics card needs to churn out twice the number of pixels at 3840 x 2160. Rendering these additional pixels can be highly demanding on the hardware and even in the PC gaming spectrum, only gamers with the most powerful gaming hardware have been able to game at 4K. Today, gamers usually have to run two high-end expensive graphics cards in SLI to achieve native 4K gaming. So what does this mean? Are the 4K ready PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S just a sham to milk more money out of console gamers?

The answer is both yes and no. When PC Gamers talk about 4K gaming, they usually mean native 4K gaming which means that the graphics cards renders each frame of a game at 4K resolution. 4K gaming on the two improved consoles aren’t native 4K gaming, they are rather up-scaled 4K images with a little bit of smart tricks at play. There is no way the hardware specifications of both the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S can handle native 4K gaming, thus both of these consoles render games at a 1080p HD resolution and upscale the produced image to a higher resolution. They also use clever tricks such as checkerboard rendering, antialiasing and geometric rendering. While both of these consoles do play games at 4K, they’re not native 4K.

So why push for enthusiast grade gaming performance on a device usually used by gamers who just want a smooth gaming performance? This could be because of the popularisation of 4K TVs. The television market today is dominated by UHD panels and to keep up with the growing demand of a console that can keep with the market trends seems vital. Consoles need to be able to output images that match the TV because users who have already invested in a 4K television would expect the latest model of a console to match the resolution. The PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S do meet this need but they do it with clever mechanics and upscaling which will not produce images as crisp as a machine that renders graphics in native 4K.

Investing in one of these gaming consoles does not seem to be a good idea at the moment because for the consoles to actually support 4K gaming, the games also need to be able to support 4K rendering. Most of the older PS4 and Xbox One games don’t support 4K out of the box and if you’re lucky, you might find a 4K patch for the games but even with the patch, gamers won’t notice significant image quality improvements. For the consoles to render 4K games, they also require a TV with support for 4K and if you want to take advantage of the higher dynamic range provided by the HDR support, you’ll need a TV that supports HDR as well. So the initial cost of setup is quite high for 4K gaming consoles. But if you already have 4K HDR supported TV, investing in an improved gaming console might not be a bad idea. If you already own a PS4 or an Xbox One, I would refrain from investing in the improved model solely because the improvements in image quality is almost negligible.

But while the consoles struggle to render 4K resolutions, the added hardware does improve the fluidity of the games. Frames per second is crucial for games because the more frames a console produces the smoother the gameplay becomes. The balance here is to maintain at least 60 fps while increasing image sharpness while rendering in 4K resolutions. PC gamers with their high-end ultra-expensive machines have been boasting about 60 to 120 FPS gaming, consoles need to struggle really hard to meet this type of speed. But both of these consoles improve on FPS and games on both of these consoles—with patches—perform better than their older counterparts.

I would recommend going for the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S only if you don’t own the predecessors of these consoles. If you have a 4K ready and HDR enabled TV or have been thinking about investing in one, these consoles just might help you get some extra crispness during gameplay and the overall cost for gaming in 4K seems just too high at this moment, especially in Nepal where 4K televisions are extremely expensive. I would advise gaming in 1080p for the moment until true native 4K gaming becomes more wide-spread than it is today. 4K gaming today is limited to enthusiast circles and today gaming hardware struggle through 4K gaming performance. I would advise waiting for 4K to become more accessible before diving in.

Published: 10-01-2017 08:31

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