8K (7680 x 4320 pixels) is an absurdly high ultra resolution. Especially when it comes to gaming. With the next gen offerings coming from Sony and Microsoft somewhat confirmed or rumored to be capable of outputting 8K resolution, it’s time to ask. Do we even need 8K in our lives?
Emergence Of 4K
The soon to become standard, 4K, weighs in at 3840×2160 pixels. The more ‘advanced’ (PS4 Pro and Xbox One X) consoles put out by Sony and Microsoft aimed to drive games at this higher resolution, as the base models released in 2013 only drove 1080p. In the distant yesteryear of 2013, 1080p was the resolution standard, and 4K was an almost fringe resolution that was just barely getting reached by the highest end of PCs.
However, a few years after 2013, 4K was quickly becoming standard. A proliferation of 4K TVs, Monitors, Cameras, and all other sorts of material permeated the market. 4K was slowly but surely working its way into becoming as commonplace as 1080p was. And yet, console gamers were stuck with machines that output the comparatively dated 1080p. Perhaps as a result of demand, Sony and Microsoft released their advanced consoles, sort of advancing the console generation by half a cycle. Both new consoles offered the fabled 4K output. Yet, as we reach the end of the console generation, did they even live up to that?
What We Have Now
The Xbox One X was revealed and touted as “The world’s most powerful console”. And well, Microsoft was right. The Xbox One X featured an eight core AMD Jaguar based processor clocked in at 2.3 GHz as well as an AMD Polaris based GPU with 6 TFLOPS, and 12GB of system memory. It also cost $500.
The PS4 Pro, on the other hand, is comparatively underpowered, but costs $100 less. Fair move Sony. Anyhow, the PS4 Pro also has an eight core AMD Jaguar based processor but clocked at 2.1 GHz. The GPU is a comparatively under powered AMD Radeon based card offering 4.2 TFLOPS, as well as 8GB for system memory.
Despite significant spec upgrades from their original consoles released back in 2013, Sony and Microsoft still struggled to get a consistent 60 Frames Per Second on their enhanced consoles. While Microsoft would eventually crack the code, Sony still struggles to this day.
Maybe it’s the purist in me talking, but even today the PS4 Pro still doesn’t output true 4K resolution while driving games at a constant 60 FPS. Sony “cheated” in a sense. In the PS4 Pro Sony packed specialized hardware to do an upscaling technique known as “checkerboarding”. This technique effectively takes a lower resolution image, and upscales it to 4K. That is, scales and tries to pretty up the image to fill up all of the pixels. While the image may appear fine, upscaling artifacts are still present, and the image quality ultimately suffers.
The PS4 Pro’s output differs from the Xbox One X. At risk of sounding like a fanboy, Microsoft doesn’t seem to pull any upscaling tricks with the Xbox One X, as it outputs “native” 4K. The base image is 4K, and the ultimately output image is 4K. And while this allowed the Xbox One X to be capable of doubling as a 4K media player, the framerate of games would still suffer.
Looking Ahead To 8K
So now, at the end of a console cycle, Sony at least is touting that the Playstation 5 will be capable of outputting 8K. But how feasible is that really?
To answer that question, we must look at the PC hardware presently in the market, as it offers a nice gauge as to where hardware performance sits. Looking there, it can be seen that hardware capable of driving 4K 60FPS is just now entering the “highly affordable” category (that is, sub $1000). Looking ahead in the next two years, the expected launch window for next gen consoles, that hardware will only solidify its self in the category. Perhaps within that window, we’ll start seeing PC hardware on the high end capable of somewhat driving games at 8K. But for now, the future doesn’t look too bright for 8K gaming.
So, what does Sony mean that their next generation console will be able to output 8K? If I had to take a guess, I’d assume playback of 8K content.
Sony has their foot in the door for the up and coming of 8K. Having lines of televisions and cameras planned for the emergence of this new ultra resolution, Sony is certainly anticipating its coming. This interview I did with a Sony representative at CES 2019 seems to sum it up well.
So will it be realistic for the next generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles to playback games in 8K resolution? No. However, I’d reasonably expect the menu system perhaps, as well as other forms of media like 8K streaming content to be capable of native playback on the next gen offerings. 8K just isn’t in a reasonable performance area that consoles ranging in the hundreds of dollars will be able to drive it. Especially when considering the launch time frame.
Don’t get too hyped when you see the assured marketing taglines of “Outputs at 8K” Sony and Microsoft are sure to employ. Unfortunately, the games running on the consoles won’t be achieving that resolution. Content delivery is reasonable, and perhaps game streaming? But that’s another discussion right there.
These are one guy’s thoughts on the upcoming consoles. For all the next gen coverage, keep it here on Culture of Gaming!