Up to this point I haven’t weighed in on the 1080p vs. 720p debate that’s been raging for the past year, and there was really only one reason not too: I’ve been waiting. The eighth console generation has only just begun, after all, and it seems fair to give developers a chance to work out the kinks. “Surely devs just need more time to get their bearings on new hardware,” I thought. “Just wait until the real AAA stuff starts pouring in, then 1080p will become the norm.” I want to believe this is true, and long term, I’d wager that it still is. But steps in that direction don’t seem to be moving along very quickly.
Recently there’s been discussion that CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3 won’t be able to run smoothly at 1080p on PS4 and Xbox One, and as one of the first must have, next-gen only multiplats slated to arrive in 2015, I’ll admit I’m pretty disappointed. I realize that resolution may not make a huge difference for every gamer, but for myself and plenty of others, it genuinely does.
The Witcher 3 looks gorgeous, but this is clearly a PC screenshot.
When last generation began, I assumed HD meant 1080p, and for the longest time I figured that every HD game was. Time passed, TVs improved, I purchased a phone with a 1080p and then 1440p screen, and suddenly my perceptions were forever changed. I currently game on a 30-inch 1080p ViewSonic monitor (not all that expensive, mind you), and when a game is 720p, I notice. Sitting at a distance helps, but if you don’t own a big screen TV, who wants to do that? Suddenly my collection of PS3 titles that I once thought ran at a pristine Full HD resolution looked minorly blurred and pixely: hardly game-breaking, but definitely noticeable. Titles like GTA V are among the worst offenders, though the issue also affects a game like Child of Light, where 720p assets are stretched (excuse me, “upscaled”) to the full 1920 x 1080. The result is pretty nice if you squint or move back, but with 20/20 vision and a small TV, it’s hardly an ideal solution.
I just bought a PS4, and resolution was an issue I’d hoped would be solved by the time I did. Sure, games like Child of Light that ran at 720p on PS3 do run at 1080p now, and the results are fantastic. I’m sure GTA V’s next-gen edition will solve the issue too. But is that how it’s going to have to be for the next seven to ten years? Remakes of old titles like Wind Waker HD and GTA V get the pristine HD treatment, while new blockbusters (though undoubtedly sporting advanced textures and lighting) are presented in a degraded fashion that will actually look worse than last-gen remakes to certain gamers. That is NOT the kind of pitch that makes new consoles desirable.
Most folks seem to take issue with Microsoft’s recent chiding of Blizzard for capping its initial Xbox One build of Diablo III at 900p, and despite the performance hiccups the now-1080p edition contains, I applaud Microsoft’s attitude. Think about it; we are now nearly nine years removed from the holiday season when the first supposed “HD console” was released. Not only that, but 4k televisions have reached the sub-$2000 mark. Don’t take my word for it — go look on Amazon. There’s even one for less than $1000. Cheap 4k may seem far off, but do you really think it’s going to take an entire console generation for 4k televisions to drop in price? Absolutely not. If we don’t solve this now, we’re going to have 720p games running on 4k TVs. That’s less than 35% of the resolution our future televisions are capable of. If that sounds absurd, it’s because it is.
Currently, this is all you need to experience much of what Xbox One and PS4 offer. It costs $20 on eBay.
If the first year of PS4 and Xbox One has proved anything, it’s that 4k games outside of PC are a pipedream. Forget it. It’s never happening. Still, we should at least strive to achieve the resolution at which the human eye can’t easily discern upscale blur and jagged pixelation. Good ol’ Full HD, established somewhere around 1996 when the FCC adopted the ATSC standard. Sure, not all TVs were Full HD for a while thereafter, nor were most broadcasts, but there have been 720p TV sets for sale in the US as far back as 1998. I want my game console to handle a resolution higher than what was possible in 1998, and frankly, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
I don’t mean to directly call out CD Projekt RED, Blizzard, or anyone else who has, will, or almost did come up short of the new generation’s 1080p gold standard. Still, I do feel that Microsoft has the right idea pressuring developers to strive for it, and the sooner that pressure leads to results and the adoption of an industry-wise agreement upon Full HD as a baseline, the better.
Of course, we could just wait for Rockstar and Naughty Dog to solve everything, as they so often do, by putting their impending blockbusters out at a modern resolution. Indies, meanwhile, already seem to be achieving it regularly. Whatever the issue is will surely be ironed out sooner or later, and it’s going to take a big player to not just pull it off, but call out the competition before anything changes. Then and only then will everybody else follow suit. It doesn’t necessarily have to be CD Projekt RED with The Witcher 3, but boy would that be awesome. Pressure’s on, guys.