This week, 4K consoles have dominated the gaming news. Both Microsoft and Sony are now touting systems that are 4K capable, but what do you think of this new format? Are you excited for 4K gaming, or are you happy to wait to upgrade? Whatever your opinion, we're interested to hear it. In the meantime, here's the USgamer team with their views on the subject.
We can't post GIFs here, so instead of inserting a glib animation of Robert de Niro shrugging indifferently I will instead write it out: "Eh."
As Yoda once said, "Pixels not make one great." On the contrary, every time pixel resolution standards double, it turns out to have a fairly negative impact on the games industry — or rather, on the art of games. The need to create more visual information, and more convincing graphics, increases resource demands and budgets. It pushes game development toward huge corporate pipelines in the Hollywood model, and it means that smaller studios who lack the size or ability to scale as needed either fold or scurry to the safety of less taxing platforms.
But what the hell do I know? I've spent the past year trying to create the most perfect 240p playing and recording setup possible within my financial means, so I'm probably the wrong person to weigh in on 4K. But the idea of throwing four times as many pixels at the screen, and thus forcing studios to spend four times as much effort and money trying to creating convincing visuals, is not really what I want from games. The more games cost, the fewer creative risks their publishers can afford to allow. I don't want innovation to suffocate under the weight of 8.3 million pixels.
Now what does interest me is HDR, which unfortunately the standards-makers have bundled in with 4K. The idea of wider color and light range will, in my opinion, do a whole lot more to make games look beautiful. I can't see individual pixels on a 50" TV when I sit back eight feet, so I don't really need double resolution. But deeper blacks and brighter whites, oh yeah. A couple of years ago I upgraded from a decade-old washed-out 720p LCD television to a proper modern LED set, and the difference in clarity and visual quality was stunning. HDR represents an even greater leap, and it's going to be incredible.
And like I said in my review of the RetroUSB AVS, the most exciting thing about the pairing of 4K and HDR to me is the prospect of creating truly convincing simulations of the way games used to be experienced. You know, on CRT monitors. With the ability to simulate the brightness of CRT phosphors via HDR and the resolution via 4K to imitate the scan lines and even the different patterns of various CRT shadow masks and the possibilities seem practically limitless. Throw in dynamic sync and you could even have perfect impersonations of all those weird custom monitor refresh rates you find in old arcade cabinets.
So basically, I guess I'm saying what I really want from 4K gaming is better 240p gaming. Yeah, I'm a self-parody at this point.
While I believe that 4K gaming is an inevitable future for all of us, I'm just not sure how long it's going to take before that future becomes a reality. Probably years and years. Upgrading one's TV and buying a console capable of 4K gaming isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and the only real benefit is a visual upgrade - it's not like 4K makes games play any better. They just look clearer, crisper, and more colorful. That might be important to some, but I think for most people, the difference between 1080p and 4K isn't something that's immediately worth rushing out to invest a large sum of money in, just for gaming. Instead, I think that 4K will come more as a natural upgrade as people purchase new equipment to replace their old 1080p TVs, and buy the next generation of consoles, which will doubtlessly all be 4K-capable.
On a personal level, even though I'm a hardcore gaming enthusiast, I won't be upgrading my PS4 anytime soon. I bought a really nice OLED 1080p TV only a few years ago, and as long as it and my current PS4 works, I'm happy to play with what I have. I've seen a few games running at 4K, and while I was impressed at their fidelity, they didn't blow me away like when I first experienced games running at 1080p compared to standard definition. That was a huge leap, and I was really excited to upgrade my TV, especially because I was also interested in watching Blu-Rays and HDTV programs that were being broadcast. Don't get me wrong - I'm definitely interested in 4K, it's just that until there's a lot more 4K content available to consume, I'm just not feeling the same sense of urgency about upgrading as I did back then.
I already know the rest of my compatriots and colleagues largely do not care. On the other hand, I am very much an early adopter/bleeding edge type, at least within the bounds of my meager salary. Having seen the all of the Pro enabled games in person, I think focusing on 4K alone is the wrong idea. Most of the Pro games aren't even in native 4K, just upscaled to 4K by the system.
But the combination of 4K and HDR is stunning. Horizon: Zero Dawn looked simply amazing; that's not to say the game doesn't already look good, but the bright colors, enhanced contrast, and greater detail make the game shine even more.
The truth is, graphics do matter. I've definitely crossed into certain areas on my favorite PC and console games and gone, "Shit, that's pretty." The Witcher III is the last game I played at home where the sense of technical artistry really improved my experience. That's why I enjoy PC gaming: being able to maximize my image quality while still playing a game at smooth framerates.
Do graphics make a game? Rarely. Do they enhance your experience with a great game? Certainly. Everyone who owns a gaming PC has gone through the 'upgrade honeymoon', where you jump back and see how your older favorites look with all the bells and whistles turned on. You can look at the NeoGAF PC Screenshot Thread of No Compromises to see what your gaming hardware can get up to when you really push it and the closer you get to that while still having a playable game, the better.
I can't justify a new 4K television, a PlayStation 4 Pro, and PlayStation VR this holiday season. If I had the money? Yeah, I'd do it. So I'm for "4K gaming", I'm just not in for right now. Perhaps when I'm the gaming rockstar you all love, need, and pay, then I can get in on that action. Until then this is no difference between the players who pick up a GeForce 1060, versus a 1070 or Titan. Where the threshold lies is personal, but hell yeah, graphics matter.
I'll just be upfront on this point: I'm kind of a late adopter when it comes to technology. I didn't get a smartphone until 2012; and before I started working in the games industry, I often waited years to upgrade to a new console. So I'm not exactly the kind of person who will just up and drop a grand on a new 4K television so I can get slightly better resolution.
With that said, I found some of what our sister site Digital Foundry had to say about the PlayStation 4 Pro's benefits to be interesting. To wit: "There is a clear, unambiguous night and day difference between 1080p and the 4K mode, which is clearly resolving more than the basic 2x increase in pixel throughput being generated at the base level. In fact, the detail increase is almost revelatory - and that applies equally to both Days Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn."
Okay, that's pretty interesting to me. Unfortunately for Sony, these unambiguous improvements don't come across on a 720p stream; but if they're as striking as he says, then I'm in.
Equally interesting, though, was what they had to say about HDR. "On the top-end screens used at the event at least, HDR was hugely important to the quality of the presentation. The bottom line is simple - in some scenarios, HDR adds just as much extra detail as the additional resolution. In Horizon Zero Dawn, the skybox is transformed, on Uncharted 4, the beach on the island level we saw is washed out, completely lacking in texture until HDR is enabled. What's clear is that the perception of HDR having an impact on colour vibrancy is only half of the picture. Yes, contrast is massively improved, but in turn, this allows for much more detail to be resolved in the presentation."
That's really interesting to hear, not the least because HDR will be supported by all PlayStation 4 consoles. If that's the case, then 4K gaming suddenly seems slightly less important.
The upshot of all this is that big improvements to visual fidelity are probably coming soon - more than I expected. And if that's the case, then that's pretty cool. Unfortunately, I also just bought my TV a couple years ago, and I really don't see myself upgrading anytime soon. Hopefully the 4K revolution will have had a chance to settle out by then. For now, though, I'm interested.
Growing up as a member of the "use it until it breaks" working class has snuffed out the possibility of me being a tech fetishist, but I'm not going to poo-poo the idea of 4K outright. I bought my first and current 720p HDTV way back in 2009, so by the time I finally upgrade, it's entirely likely that I'll be buying a 4K model. (And by that time there probably won't be any other choice.) Right now, though? While 4K makes for an appreciable upgrade from 1080p, it doesn't seem all that necessary. True, most video game-related things are inherently unnecessary, but Sony's recent PS4 Pro unveiling tried its best to establish a problem that doesn't really exist. It also helps that I have a newish gaming PC, of course, but I haven't yet looked at the fidelity of a PS4 game and thought, "Hmm… this could stand to be better." Of course, I regularly spend dozens upon dozen of hours playing 3DS games, so I guess I'm not living my life correctly—at least according to Sony's standards.
...Utter, utter apathy. And maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I get the feeling I’m not the only person who’s beaming their opinion straight from the Neutral Planet.
Right now, the industry’s opinion on 4K TVs seems to be “Eh, get one if you want. We’ll support 4K gaming. Maybe. At some point.” Nobody’s committed to anything, and nobody has any passion about the tech.
The change-over from SD gaming to HD gaming was more urgent, more insistent. For starters, families were drawn to HD TVs because the jump in visual quality was enormous. As a result, it wasn’t a huge trick for many gamers to make the switch to HD-based consoles either. Of course, publishers “helped” initiate the change by releasing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games that were nigh-unplayable on a CRT television because vital text became too small to read.
Way to go, games industry. You sure have this “accessibility” thing nailed. [confetti]
Nevertheless, the previous console generation quickly reached a point where your gaming choices were narrowed down to “Get an HD TV,” “Get a Wii,” and “Fugeddaboutit and save your money since the Great Recession is tearing the economy to shreds anyway.” You evolved or you died, man.
By comparison, the pitch for 4K TVs and gaming is as tepid as day-old soup. There’s no urgency, no consequences if you say “no.” And when you try to initiate change by halves, it doesn’t stick. That’s why the US still uses the Imperial system and the paper dollar.
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