Running the Xbox One at 1080p has been a sore point for developers and gamers alike in the months since the console’s launch in November. Games like Titanfall that are exclusive to the Xbox One are running very close to 720p, and multi-platform games such as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes are running on the competing PlayStation 4 with 60 frames per second at 1080p. With the advent of the DirectX 12 update in addition to some system updates, the Xbox One will give developers a better way to get to the elusive 1080p resolution.
Over the last several months, many high profile games such as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Tomb Raider have been forced to reduce the resolution of their games in order to run at a decent frame rate for their Xbox One release while the PlayStation 4 versions were all able to run at a native 1080p as well as a silky smooth 60fps. Even Titanfall, a game exclusive to the Xbox One, missed the 1080p mark by a wide margin and may only ever reach 900p.
Part of the reason the console has struggled to keep up is the way the hardware bottlenecks the memory. Another is that almost 10% of the Xbox One’s GPU resources are dedicated to the Kinect for video and voice functions at 8 percent and 2 percent respectively. Microsoft is promising that developers will be able to decide if they want to include that 8% for video functions, potentially giving them the power they need.
The second reason that 1080p is an elusive goal for the Xbox One is the actual hardware itself requires more optimizing as opposed to the PS4, which can “brute force” its way to the 1080p mark. Many outlets have cited this as a reason, but let’s take a moment to look at some specifics:
- The Xbox One GPU has 12 compute units vs. 18 on the PS4 (Think of compute units as “Cores” you hear about on CPUs).
- The Xbox One has GDDR3 RAM vs. the PS4 GDDR5 RAM. Translated, this means that the Xbox one can transfer 68 gigabytes of data per second while the PS4 can transfer 176 GB/s.
- The Xbox One has ESRAM, memory physically stationed on the GPU itself, which can transfer directly at a speed of 204GB/s. While that is fast, the amount of RAM is only 32 MB.
If you want to really delve into the technical aspects of the consoles, ExtremeTech has a great breakdown of the two platforms from a hardware point of view. A simpler way to think of it is having a powerful engine in which you want to send gas to as fast as possible so it doesn’t stall. The pipeline on the Xbox One simply doesn’t have the flow the PlayStation 4 does which the hardware will still limit no matter how much of a bump DX12 will give it.
On the Xbox One, to run at an even 60 frames per second, the rendering must happen in 16 milliseconds or less. Even one thousandth of a second over that and you must drop the resolution of the game, run at 30fps, or run without vsync which will give the user the “tearing” look on the screen and result in controls being inconsistent.
In order to achieve that 1080p resolution for the Xbox One, developers who are still learning the best way to optimize their code for the next gen consoles simply opt to drop the resolution down to a level that will give them the performance they need.
Another benefit to the DirectX 12 environment is the way it forces developers to be more strict in their coding. While there are many ways in which DX12 will make coding more streamlined, one of the biggest drains on power is something called “draw calls.”
Lets say the Xbox One had a game that had 1,000 trees in any given scene. The developer that decides to have the Xbox load each tree one at a time, will find that the DX12 environment will allow those 1,000 trees to load a lot faster. Faster processing opens up the potential for 1080p.
Some developers that code in this way will see speed bumps of 100 percent according to Stardock founder Brad Wardell. Writing on Neowin, he stated, “”Xbox One is the biggest beneficiary; it effectively gives every Xbox One owner a new GPU that is twice as fast as the old one,” he added.
While Wardell’s claims sound great, not everyone is buying that big a speed bump. WCCF Tech rounded up developer tweets and responses to Wardell’s claim about 2x speed benefits to the Xbox One with DX 12. One of the more memorable ones are below:
Well that made me smile: http://t.co/ynb4viUvou DX12 will push GPUs twice as hard leading to overheating
— Rich Forster (@dickyjimforster) April 8, 2014
While having the Xbox One at 1080p would be a huge boon for the console against the more well endowed PS4, the DirectX 12 tech does not have any release date. It is likely we will hear more at E3, but even if it was released to the wild today, it would be 6 months or longer before we see games that take full advantage of the new tech.
Image Sources | Mircosoft | Barone Firenze / Shutterstock.com