Fresh from Microsoft’s Xbox One X reveal, head honcho Phil Spencer has been doing the rounds at E3 detailing the ins and outs of the company’s latest and most powerful console.
“This is a true 4K console. If you just look at the specs of what this box is, it’s in a different league than any other console that’s out there’’, describes Spencer in a recent interview with gaming website Eurogamer.
He continued: “I look at [PS4] Pro as more of a competitor to [Xbox One] S than I do to Xbox One X.”
A point of contention with Spencer’s comments, however, stems from the idea that both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro aren’t competing on the same playing field.
At its core, for our money, it is disingenuous of Spencer to try and align the Xbox One S – with its 4K function being UHD Blu-ray playback and an upscale technique – with PS4 Pro rather than the X because, fact is, the Xbox One X will indeed employ the same checkerboard rendering and dynamic resolution techniques that the Pro does when necessary. After all, Microsoft isn’t mandating how developers should use the additional power of the X so you can imagine that the majority of the time they’ll go for the more cost effective checkerboard option given the fact they may already be doing that for Pro.
For a console that’s espoused a narrative around ‘true’ 4K/60fps for the longest time, bar the beautiful showing of Forza Motorsport 7 hitting that mark, there was not another mention of frame rate for the bigger games shown throughout the show. Not only that, but it was later confirmed that Crackdown 3 will run at 30 fps, Assassin’s Creed: Origins will utilize a dynamic 4K resolution, and Metro Exodus developer 4A Studios’ was ‘targeting’ a native 4K though the on-screen demo was in fact running on a high-end PC. It’s ironic considering that in the same interview with Eurogamer, Spencer criticized Sony for its resolution techniques by saying, “When I think about techniques to somehow manufacture a 4K screen like what some other consoles try to do, this is different than that.”
You’ve got to think, then, that if an aforementioned CPU-intensive multiplatform game like Assassin’s Creed: Origins can’t hit a native 4K resolution around the launch of the system – at what you would ascertain to be presumably 30 frames per second – then does that bode well for future titles? Surely as graphical technology continues to develop at the rate it currently is, does that mean you’ll see the Xbox One X use faux-K conventions outside of its first-party efforts as standard? If so, what does that do to their messaging and current lambasting of Sony’s efforts with PS4 Pro?
And considering the fact that just yesterday PS4 system architect – and indeed more importantly the mind behind Spyro the Dragon – Mark Cerny said that Insomniac Games’ upcoming Spider-Man would be ‘true 4K’ you’ve got to ask where is the readily apparent gulf in graphical prowess to be seen? Not only that, but we’ve seen just what the likes of Guerilla Games’ proprietary Decima Engine – with its increased quality of isotropic texture filtering – is capable of with the crisp, lush checkerboard 4K image on Horizon Zero Dawn, and we’ll naturally see an extension of that in its upcoming DLC ‘The Frozen Lands’ and of course Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding at some point in the future.
It’s a curious case, this, because we know Xbox One X’s specifications dwarf that of PS4 Pro in nearly all respects, but is it more so that we’ve just reached a point of diminishing returns? Is the 4K image delivered by say Wipeout Omega Collection all that different bar its frame rate to a checkerboard display? Look closely and sure, you’ll be able to pick up on more of the pointed details, but for the everyday consumer that just considers a price point and a software lineup as the chief rationale for picking a particular console, is there really a compelling argument to shell out 100 dollars more for an Xbox One X?
Unravelling Spencer’s interview with Eurogamer further, something that we had picked up upon in a speculative article yesterday was the fact that Sony’s robust third-party party deals with the likes of Activision, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft may mean that there’s a degree of parity between PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions of a particular game like Call of Duty: WWII, thus nullifying the sizeable difference in capability between both consoles. To that point, Spencer said:
‘’There’s nothing technically that would keep any game a console game maker is building who wants to take advantage of the capability here from making Xbox One X the very best version of every one of those games.’’
While that’s certainly true, as we’ve stressed previously, if you’re Sony and you’ve just laid out marketing dollars for a deal that’ll see your console be championed as the platform for a specific title, the last thing you’d want is for that publisher – who has no additional obligation to a rival company – to create a version of its title that takes full advantage of that rival’s technically superior system. Especially if it makes your console look worse in the process. It may not be consumer-friendly in the grand scheme of things, but it’s business. And smart business at that.
As ever, as a console manufacturer, your hardware’s your foundation, and while Microsoft’s structure is solid, its messaging is a little more porous, not helped at all by further revelations that run contrary to what the overall narrative is supposed to be. If your message is one that appeals to the niche, hardcore demographic that wants native 4K/60fps as a standard with a premium price in tow perhaps ensure that your system is delivering on that promise from the outset.
After all, you’ve got to learn to walk first before you can learn to fly.