With both of this generation's home consoles getting upgraded versions, a new battle line has been drawn around the 4K resolution and high-dynamic-range (HDR) support. This seems to be the marketing benchmark that's being pushed by executives and fans alike. Which system will offer the best image quality in gaming come 2017?
After the announcement of the PlayStation 4 Pro, Microsoft was keen to play up the fact that the Xbox One S already had support for 4K Blu-Ray, 4K streaming video, and HDR. The company also pointed out that on paper, the unrevealed Xbox Scorpio would have 6TFLOPS of processing power vs. the PlayStation 4 Pro's 4.2TFLOPS. According to Microsoft senior director of product planning Albert Penello, the choice is clear when it comes to the upgraded consoles.
"We're building a great platform. We're building the most powerful console ever made," Penello told Eurogamer. "We had to pick a number. Why did you choose six teraflops? Why did you choose 320Gb/s in memory bandwidth? What's the point of those numbers? The point of those numbers was to deliver Xbox One-quality games in 4K. That's the point of those numbers."
"Now, similarly to what Sony said, that doesn't mean I'm going to require developers to do this. They're going to be able to decide to take that six teraflops of power and do what they think is best for their game. But I know that 4.2 teraflops is not enough to do true 4K. So, I feel like our product aspired a little bit higher, and we will have fewer asterisks around the 4K experiences we deliver on our box."
Penello pointed out that Sony's 4K resolution solution is largely based on upscaling a lower-resolution image or checkerboard rendering. Sony has been open about the fact that most PS4 Pro games probably won't do native 4K resolution.
"I think there are a lot of caveats they're giving customers right now around 4K," said Penello. "They're talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that's why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that's why we have the teraflops we have, because it's what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K."
The Microsoft executive was cagey about the Xbox Scorpio having a 4K Blu-Ray drive, despite the Xbox One S launching with one. He remains sure that 4K is the future of the medium though.
"We haven't announced anything specifically on that. You could assume that would be our intent, but we don't have anything specific on that," said Penello. "When you look around the world, not everybody's at the same state when it comes to digital. You could argue they're probably not at the same state when it comes to 4K either. But I still think there's room for physical."
"For the high-end enthusiast, 4K Blu-rays look amazing. And there are still going to be places in the world that won't get that streaming because of their internet connections, but might have access to physical. So yeah, I'm glad we made the decision. I'm a fan of 4K, thinking globally."
Of course, Microsoft is able to talk up the Xbox Scorpio because it doesn't have to deal with specifics. Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro is a real device that you can pre-order now and comes as an upgrade to a system that is dominating this generation so far. Microsoft's Xbox Scorpio is still in development for a holiday 2017 release, without confirmed hardware or design. It's also the follow-up to Microsoft's second place role, a hopeful way to build a larger install base for the Xbox platform.
The Xbox Scorpio is a magical unicorn at this point. I look forward to seeing when it becomes a real horse.
The full interview with Penello can be found over at Eurogamer.