The 4K revolution is slowly edging it’s way into more and more homes these days. Maybe not as quickly as the entertainment industries would hope for but this isn’t stopping them from advocating the technology and pushing out content for it.
Right now though, the only other people I know to have a 4K TV apart from me are my dad and just one of my friends. Being the early adopter that I am, I purchased the Sony KD-55S8505C a while ago. It’s big, it’s curved and most importantly, it has that hot new resolution… and I don’t mean that it’s going to quit smoking after New Years.
I bought it back in January this year (2016) and at the time was still just a little too soon to take advantage of the display. Now though, in the final stretch of the year, 4K content is becoming far more readily available. Netflix and Amazon both have a wealth of Ultra HD movies and TV shows to watch, Ultra HD Blurays are showing up in stores, plus both Sky and Virgin Media are updating their set-top boxes to be able to provide 4K TV channels to homes in the very near future.
But as gorgeous as the new Top Gear (*cough* sorry I mean Grand Tour) is to look at, it’s the future of gaming with this technology that I’m really interested in.
Sony has tried to pitch in first for the console side of gaming with it’s new PlayStation 4 Pro but the result feels to be a rushed attempt to cash in on the 4K hype train. Looking like two normal PS4’s glued together it’s also just £350 ($400). Compare that to a PC built to run games at 4K costing at least three times that amount, it would seem too good to be true wouldn’t it? And indeed it is.
Clever marketing will lead you to believe that it will deliver 4K gaming to your living room but in reality what it will actually give you is not even close to that. Games are simply upscaled to 4K, a process that (in very basic terms) artificially adds the extra pixels needed by duplicating the surrounding ones to display something in a higher resolution that it actually is.
The console just isn’t powerful enough. Yes it’s roughly twice as powerful as the regular PS4 but 4K is four times the resolution of 1080p HD (hence the name). When the regular console can only just manage rendering a game at 1080p, twice the power just isn’t going to provide four times that amount. With the extra power it does have, it can natively render games higher than 1080p HD resolution (somewhere between 1440 and 1800p depending on the game, also known as 2k) and then the upscaling handles the remaining jump to 4K (2160p). While this will result in a slightly better appearance, it is not the glory of a native 4K output. Not by a long shot.
Sony has however taken advantage of HDR (High Dynamic Range), another new display technology that is quickly becoming the new buzzword in the TV world and in short, it allows a compatible display to show a much wider and richer range of colours. My TV is HDR compatible and having played an updated version of the Ratchet & Clank remake that supports it, the result is truly stunning colour representation and a dramatically enhanced image. However, thanks to a recent software update, the regular PS4 can provide your compatible TV with this information and not just the new Pro model further sinking it into pointlessness. The final major flaw with Sony’s new console is the shocking omission of an Ultra HD Bluray player, despite Sony being the lead company behind the new disc technology itself.
All in all then owners of the PS4 Pro are only going to get upscaled 2K graphics in games and can’t consume 4K content on the latest physical media. So what else is there? Sadly, nothing at the moment for consoles until next year. Microsoft announced its Project Scorpio console back in July at E3 which will be an updated and incredibly powerful version of the Xbox One capable of true native 4K gaming but it won’t hit the shelves until late 2017.
In the meantime they have released another updated Xbox One, the Xbox One S. With only a small improvement to graphical power, on paper it isn’t any competition to the PS4 Pro but it does have some tricks up it’s sleeve. Not only is it far smaller and way better looking than the original Xbox One, it does gain some 4K abilities. It has updated Netflix and Amazon apps to view their Ultra HD content AND it has an Ultra HD Bluray player inside! Not only that but it also supports HDR for games and it will upscale them to 4K too, albeit from 1080p, but it does still make games look noticeably better if you have a 4K TV.
Announcing Project Scorpio alongside the release of the Xbox One S was somewhat of a risky move by Microsoft. Showing everyone your new product and then telling them that in a year a newer and more powerful one will be out would normally cripple sales figures but this remarkably hasn’t been the case. The Xbox One S has been outselling the PS4 in the UK and USA for the last four months. On top of that, sales of the PS4 Pro have also been less than stellar so far.
Now this could be just the calm before the Christmas storm. Sales could boom as we get closer to the holiday season but I’m willing to bet that poor reviews of the console due to the above drawbacks combined with Microsoft’s announcement of whats to come from their camp could be holding people back from grabbing Sony’s latest machine.
Like Microsoft, Sony has also released a smaller update to their original console too, The PS4 Slim. This updated version provides no new features other than the inclusion of the updated controller and I think Sony really missed a trick here. What they should have done in my opinion is to have added the 4K media abilities to the Slim, making it a close competitor to the Xbox One S and then delayed the release of the Pro to fall in line with Project Scorpio. They could have used the extra time and money to produce a product truly able to provide 4K graphics and possibly keep themselves ahead in the console war.
Sony has seen success in its dominance in the current console generation so far but with their recent bad decisions combined with Microsoft’s new strategies, I strongly feel the the tables could turn here. Releasing their higher end model so early and with only a fraction of the power of their main rivals future console, Sony have really put themselves in danger of loosing their lead in the market they worked so hard to get this generation.