Why next-gen consoles shouldn't focus on 'true 4K'

Fijiandoce

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Oct 8, 2007
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#1
DIGITAL FOUNDRY

In the wake of E3, Sony sent over high quality 4K versions of their trailers, allowing us to get a closer, more granular look at how PlayStation 4 Pro is set deliver the next wave of first-party exclusives for owners of ultra HD displays. Technologies like checkerboarding and temporal injection persist and in all cases, the results are impressive. And that's a good thing, as these techniques - or evolved versions of them - are likely to be a component of games designed for the next generation of consoles. By extension, what that also means is that marketing a new PlayStation or Xbox as a 'true 4K' console, or pushing developers to maximise pixel-counts first and foremost, may not be the best idea.

So, why should this be the case? After all, 1080p resolution effectively became the standard for the PlayStation 4 generation, a 1:1 pixel match for the majority of the displays the consoles were connected to - and by the time PS5 arrives, 4K will be the new standard. Indeed, in terms of what TVs are available on store shelves, it already is. But this introduces the uncomfortable reality that we'll be looking at the biggest gen-on-gen increase in pixel-count since the transition from PS1 to PS2. Gigantic generational leaps in graphical power were commonplace in the early years of the 21st century, but these days, the gains are more slender.

And that's a problem bearing in mind how vast a leap 4K actually is - a jump entirely at odds with increases in resolution seen in almost every prior console generation. Indeed, boosts to pixel count have actually been reducing gen-on-gen as a general trend for over a decade now. PS2 to PS3 saw the jump to high definition, but this still represented a circa 3x boost to the amount of pixels the GPU needed to drive the display. And moving forward to the present day, PS4's 1080p standard represented a 2.25x increase over the PS3's 720p. Were the same increase applied in the next transition, we'd be targeting a 2880x1620 resolution - a mere 56 per cent of the area demanded by our 4K flat panels.

Based on the power of the GPUs AMD has delivered and what its roadmaps for future products hint at, a 6x increase in graphics power over PlayStation 4 is conceivable for a next-gen console - 8x at a real stretch, and this ballpark increase in processing power is the general threshold that typically defines a gen-on-gen leap in console performance. However, when looking at prior transitions, the danger in prioritising 'true 4K' across the board is that too much of those extra GPU resources will be spent painting pixels, with not enough power dedicated to providing an actual leap in graphical fidelity - the stuff that actually matters in defining new experiences associated with a new wave of console hardware.

In the meantime, let's also put the GPU into context with what we should expect from the rest of the system. We can reasonably assume that the new wave of consoles will feature far more capable CPUs than the current machines - indeed, Xbox chief Phil Spencer has already talked about next-gen as a rebalancing between CPU and GPU power, opening the door to 60fps and perhaps support for 120Hz displays. If we are to assume that today's 30fps PS4 Pro experiences are tomorrow's PS5 60fps titles, doubling frame-rate ensure that a good chunk of the extra GPU power is already spoken for, even before we've looked at boosting resolution or introducing additional features that genuinely provide a generational leap in visual quality or features. Ryzen could also be deployed on simulating far more realistic, more immersive worlds at 30fps - but even then, it'll still need GPU resources to render them, power that won't be available if too much of the graphics core is put to work on servicing the 8.3m pixels on a 4K screen.
Worth going to EG to read the full article; can't post the full thing here!

The tagline for this article i feel is particularly poignant in regard to the mid-gen refreshes: "With GPU power at a premium, new ideas and technologies must trump pixel-count".

It's a good read, and it's nice to see Digital Foundry actually get around to addressing their stance on 4K, in relation to the thing that's trying to achieve it. I know people who read their stuff automatically make the assumption that because they appreciate a 4K image, it's therefore 4K or bust. 4K is great, insofar as it isn't the sole objective. The marketing for the mid-gen refreshes worked. Hopefully this settles down expectation of 4K going into the next generation.

Of all the cool stuff be done on a games machine, rendering pixels is by far the most mundane, especially when the pixel count is exorbitant. More over, we get back to the cooler days of game development where obstacles actually required innovative ideas. When SSAO was first created, you would never have thought a console would run it, yet at the end of the PS360 cycle, SSAO (and even more precise implementations) were common place. That stuff is cool. We need more of that progression back.
 

Vyse

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Mar 27, 2006
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#2
Here's the link to the article which you forgot to post:

https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/...-consoles-shouldnt-focus-on-true-4k-rendering

But I do agree to an extent. I don't think there should be a huge focus on reaching specific resolution benchmarks, if checkerboarding and temporal injection supposedly do a good enough job. However, true 4K will be a bridge most developers will want to cross eventually. I'm just not sure that, in all cases, it will necessarily translate to developers sacrificing new ideas and technologies.

If we're talking about the same SSAO that resulted in the black outer glow in games like Far Cry 3 and Amnesia, I never liked it. I always thought it was too distracting from the overall visual quality, an unnecessary detour in their attempt to achieve photorealism. Often times, less is more, and I still believe that when it comes to good graphics.
 
Last edited:
Jun 4, 2007
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#3
Native 4k would definitely be wasting resources. I'm all for Sony sticking with checkerboard 30/60fps. Crank everything else up and give off that next gen jump in graphics that gamers expect.
 

VayMasters86

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Sep 13, 2007
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#4
I agree. If the MS and Sony put the focus on 4k for next generation, it'll raise customer expectations that the next generation games will all be pumping out those pixels. I'd much rather each developer make a decision based on each individual game as to what's more important to dedicate the processing power to.

If a developers feel that a specific game that they're developing will benefit more from more pixels, so be it, but if they feel that it would be better utilized elsewhere, I'd much rather them not be pressured by marketing to reach some specific metric that would in turn, harm the quality of the end product.
 

Vyse

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Mar 27, 2006
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#5
I think we need to see more than just prettier looking environments and facial animations. We need truly dynamic game worlds with player characters and NPCs doing interesting things, realistically, and small but noticeable rendering techniques that spark talks of attention to detail.

For example, if I'm playing a game with a close-up third person camera and the weather is windy, show the loose parts of the clothing react accordingly and different each time the wind kicks up or dies down. Put those custom algorithms or whatever that controls the A.I. and physics to good use.
 

Fijiandoce

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Oct 8, 2007
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#6
Here's the link to the article which you forgot to post:

https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/...-consoles-shouldnt-focus-on-true-4k-rendering

But I do agree to an extent. I don't think there should be a huge focus on reaching specific resolution benchmarks, if checkerboarding and temporal injection supposedly do a good enough job. However, true 4K will be a bridge most developers will want to cross eventually. I'm just not sure that, in all cases, it will necessarily translate to developers sacrificing new ideas and technologies.

If we're talking about the same SSAO that resulted in the black outer glow in games like Far Cry 3 and Amnesia, I never liked it. I always thought it was too distracting from the overall visual quality, an unnecessary detour in their attempt to achieve photorealism. Often times, less is more, and I still believe that when it comes to good graphics.
Thanks for posting the link Vyse. lol, the DF header was supposed to link to the article... looks like the "://" in the URL broke somehow.

But yeah, just to add, at some point, inevitably, 4K will be the norm. Netflix are streaming 4K movies, 4K blu-rays are becoming more widely available, we have the tech (HEVC/VP9) to encode 4K efficiently etc. etc.

But, as far as 4K goes for consoles, it's a bit of a silly target when you consider it as a RAW output. High end PC's are only just getting to 4K60fps in some titles. An APU, by design, is handicapped in this regard. There's stuff like Vega's hardware culling (even though devs have been doing it for decades), and half precision math that can be put to work for more than just a pixel count.

The refreshes, for example, had the opportunity to give console gamers 1080p (or even 1440p at a stretch) 30-60 using PC ultra quality presets... something that has never been the case! Instead they squander the opportunity on pixel pushing. I know gamers tend to measure their machine based on the number of pixels it can crunch but in the PS360 days, we actually got differences in implementation. Was the post FX AA solution FXAA, SMAA, or QuincuxAA?? What was the AO implementation? etc. etc.

I think we need to see more than just prettier looking environments and facial animations. We need truly dynamic game worlds with player characters and NPCs doing interesting things, realistically, and small but noticeable rendering techniques that spark talks of attention to detail.

For example, if I'm playing a game with a close-up third person camera and the weather is windy, show the loose parts of the clothing react accordingly and different each time the wind kicks up or dies down. Put those custom algorithms or whatever that controls the A.I. and physics to good use.
I do wonder if this is why TES has missed this generation. AI, and simulating a living world, tends to be the domain of the CPU... and the consoles have a rather weak offering on that front (but they are good for feeding the GPU).

for example, Fallout 4 swapped the Radiant AI system of previous Beth titles for a Radiant Quest system which was kinda weaksauce; But it was a lot simpler to implement as there's no real "AI". The AI in fallout seemingly run entirely on scripts iirc, which isn't bad in anyway but, with Beth titles being the perfectly bug free experience that they are, you can get scripts flat out failing to load. Which means you get some odd behaviour out of your AI like a bandit raid where all your settlers just go about there merry day...

Contrast this to the days of Oblivion (where single thread and clock speed ruled), where you had the AI calculate peoples routines based on the time of day. Some would walk from city to city, and your interaction with them along that path would be relative to their position for that time of day.
 

Vyse

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Mar 27, 2006
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#7
There must be a compilation video of weird A.I. behavior in Bethesda games. I know Skyrim was kind of odd in that you would return home and there would be a dragon lying in the middle of a walkway or on top of a house and you're like "Isn't somebody going to clean this up?" Lol.
 

haanuman

New member
May 28, 2018
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#8
I think we need to see more than just prettier looking environments and facial animations. We need truly dynamic game worlds with player characters and NPCs doing interesting things, realistically, and small but noticeable rendering techniques that spark talks of attention to detail.

For example, if I'm playing a game with a close-up third person camera and the weather is windy, show the loose parts of the clothing react accordingly and different each time the wind kicks up or dies down. Put those custom algorithms or whatever that controls the A.I. and physics to good use.
Yeah I agree, cosmetics don't mean much to me.