For gamers owning an Xbox One and PS4, 4K gaming always seems to be talked about but never within reach. The biggest obstacle is that neither Microsoft nor Sony provides 4K/Ultra HD support for their consoles, but the increasing affordability for a 4K TV set may put pressure on the companies in 2016. The secondary issue is the Xbox One and PS4 GPU performance, but is it possible modern games, even including AAA title first-person shooters, could benefit from the 4K resolution?
In a related report by the Inquisitr, Netflix 4K streaming movie support is already here, but the Netflix app for the video game consoles will need a patch in order to support it. Netflix's CEO is also predicting that Microsoft and Sony will eventually launch an Xbox One 4K edition and a PS4 4K edition.
In 2014, around 1 percent of U.S. homes owned a 4K TV set. The 4K TV price drop dropped quickly in 2015, so David Witkins, service director for connected home devices at Strategy Analytics, predicts that 4K TVs will have a 10 percent market penetration by 2016, and 50 percent by 2020.
"Ultra HD will become the standard resolution for virtually all large screen TVs within 3 to 4 years' time and we will see it penetrate further into smaller screen sizes as manufacturing efficiencies improve," he said, according to 4k.com.
Oddly enough, even with all the PC master race debates, PC gamers actually lag behind when it comes to using their 4K monitors. Steam's November hardware survey revealed that only 0.07 percent of PC gamers use the 4K resolution, while 1080p is used by 35.21 percent and 1366 x 768 by 26.22 percent. These results may be interpreted to mean that PC gamers are largely limited by their video card performance, not by their ownership of 4K-capable monitors.
Except, when it isn't. AAA titles like Halo 5 may have forced the developers to find new ways to keep the framerate stable at 60 FPS, but not all games are twitch-based or require a 4K 60 Hz experience in order to be optimal. There are also games which look good but still have plenty of head room when it comes to stressing the GPU out.
For example, Frozenbyte's senior graphics programmer, Juha Hiekkamäki, told Eurogamer that Trine 2 could have been a PS4 4K 30 Hz game if Sony had provided the software option.
"I can't think why we technically couldn't support 3840 x 2160 mode at 30fps (with the stereo rendering quality). Increasing the resolution while rendering less often would end up to the same amount of pixels being rendered," he said. "Whether or not a 4K mode would otherwise make sense is another matter.... Gameplay wise you'd also lose smoother 60fps controls."
Unfortunately, due to hardware and software limitations, both consoles currently only support the HDMI 1.4a standard, which is limited to a refresh rate of 30 Hz, while HDMI 2.0 offers 4K resolution at 50/60 Hz. It has been speculated that the software patch could update the consoles to HDMI 2.0, but Microsoft and Sony haven't commented on whether the hardware is capable of the additional bandwidth required for 60 Hz. Both companies have failed to offer 4K support to game developers, but there are justifiable reasons to do so.
There is also a middle ground solution. In reality, the largest determination for performance and framerate is the graphical complexity of certain scenes. While the PS4 or Xbox One GPU performance may not be capable of providing a full 4K native resolution all the time, some games may be fully playable at a native resolution higher than 1080p yet upscaled to 4K 30 FPS. But it's possible other methods can be used to adjust the resolution based upon performance.
Dynamic resolution scaling is one method used to smooth out the framerate between different scenes by switching the native resolution target on the fly. For example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is framerate locked at 30 FPS on both the PS4 and Xbox One, but the game engine adjusts the native resolution between 900p and 1080p based upon the scene. Halo 5 also uses dynamic resolution scaling to maintain 60 FPS. Technically, some games with lower complexity should be capable of rendering natively somewhere between 1080p and 4K resolution while maintaining a solid 30 FPS.
If there are any doubters, consider the fact that the Nvidia Shield advertises itself as an Android 4K gaming platform despite the relatively slower GPU performance of the Nvidia Tegra X1. Without getting into details, the Nvidia Shield GPU outputs 512 GigaFLOPS, while the Xbox One GPU does 1,310 GigaFLOPS, and the PS4 GPU cranks out 1,843 GigaFLOPS. If the Nvidia Shield is good enough for limited 4K gaming, then why not its beefier competitors?
In the end, the question is when, not if, Sony and Microsoft will open the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One up to 4K gaming. While there will always be technical limitations, the possibilities seem to justify patching the systems sooner, not later.
[Image via Nvidia]