Microsoft calls out Sony's 4K claims as console battle heats up

Weekly recap: MS says Sony has "a lot of asterisks" around 4K, VR's potential continues to be questioned, and Steam reviews cause controversy

A little bit of clarity can go a long way. A few weeks ago at the reveal of the PS4 Pro, in a staff roundtable I questioned whether Sony's new console would hurt Microsoft's chances with the more powerful Scorpio. I also gave Sony an edge because of its HDR rollout to all PS4s. As it turns out, the HDR update is practically useless (no games supported yet and no video streaming) and the PS4 Pro itself will see most games upscaled, according to Sony Interactive boss Andrew House.

While PS4 architect Mark Cerny did make it clear during the conference that the Pro does not render games in true 4K resolution, many fans had no doubt assumed it would and likely glossed over his technical explanation of the Pro's "streamlined rendering techniques" and "temporal and spatial anti-aliasing." It's hard to say how much consumers will care when the Pro goes on sale in November, but Microsoft wasted no time in puffing up its chest to declare its superiority with a console that won't ship for many, many months.

"That's a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate"

Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today, "Any games we're making that we're launching in the Scorpio time frame, we're making sure they can natively render at 4K." Moreover, Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, hammered home the point with our sister site Eurogamer, commenting, "I think there are a lot of caveats they're giving customers right now around 4K. They're talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that's why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that's why we have the teraflops we have, because it's what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K."

That's a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate. It may not seem like a big deal right now, as 4K TV sales are still relatively minor, but the prices are falling and interest in 4K and HDR is picking up, not only with consumers, but also with game developers and content providers for streaming services like Netflix. This could be a decent holiday for the 4K TV market, and by the time Scorpio actually does launch there will be that many more 4K TV owners to target with the only console that renders 4K natively. That's a nice feather in Microsoft's cap.

This week we also featured an interesting writeup on VR and AR from DICE Europe. While VR proponents like Unity's Clive Downie said there will be over a billion people using VR in the next 10 years, others such as Niantic's John Hanke and Apple boss Tim Cook cast doubt on the long-term appeal and commerical success of VR. Of course, this isn't the first time that people have wondered whether VR will ever move beyond a niche category - and indeed, our Rob Fahey talks about the over-investment in the space in his column today - but the idea that VR is merely an intermediary step before AR comes into its own is the wrong way to think about these technologies in my view.

" think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR's ascendancy is totally off base"

Just because they both offer altered realities and utilize headsets does not mean they should be lumped together. The use cases and experiences are vastly different for VR and AR, and while I agree that AR likely is the better bet from a commercial standpoint, I don't underestimate VR for one second. I've had way too many fun game sessions using the tech already, and it's early days. Beyond that, serious movie makers are starting to leverage the great potential of the medium. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book), for example, is working on a VR film called Gnomes and Goblins and he's even brought on veteran game designer Doug Church (System Shock, Thief) to fine tune the VR interactions.

The fact is VR has enormous storytelling potential and can immerse its users in ways that we've never experienced before. "As I work in film, so much has been done," Favreau commented. "There are technological breakthroughs but there is less and less up in the air.  You're really writing a song in the same format that has been going on for at least a hundred years. And what's interesting about VR is that, although I really don't know where it's going or if it's going to catch on in a significant way culturally, I do know that there is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of fun things as a storyteller for me to experiment with. It's exciting to have so much fresh snow that nobody has walked through yet. There's been no medium that I've felt that way since I've come into the business, where it feels like you can really be a pioneer."

AR will be tremendously exciting in its own right, and I can't wait for Magic Leap, HoloLens and castAR, but to think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR's ascendancy is totally off base.

Elsewhere on this week

Valve has tweaked its Steam reviews again, but some developers are not pleased with the impact

Supercell bought a 51% stake in Badland dev Frogmind

Blizzard has decided to phase out its branding

League of Legends house Riot is now getting into board games

Pokemon Co. president and CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara is hoping to target China and South Korea with Pokemon GO

The 38 Studios saga may finally be coming to a close as Curt Schilling and three other officials have agreed to a settlement

In other news

This year's Tokyo Game Show enjoyed a record high 271,244 visitors

Games Co. London has landed a funding deal to provide £600k for three new gaming properties, with an even larger second round coming in 2017

Crytek has added 12 more universities to its VR First program

SGN has decided to rebrand itself Jam City and has also acquired the mobile game rights to Peanuts

Latest comments (10)

Jordan Lund Columnist 2 years ago
There are three ways to deliver 4K content:

1) You can upscale non 4K content, which 4K televisions already do.

2) You can stream 4K content, which 4K televisions already do.

3) You can support 4K Blu Ray discs.

So out of the gate, the PS4 Pro promises to do the same things that 4K owners can already do, but not the third, which the competition does for $100 less.

HDR support will be nice, but that's also now on the PS4 I already own. There's literally no reason to buy the Pro, particularly if you already own a PS4.

I can almost see the post mortem articles now... "What happened?"
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd2 years ago
Classic Microsoft FUD.

On one hand they want customers to wait for a machine they've not revealed price, final spec, software support or launch date for, and on the other they want them to rush out and buy the Xbox One S, a machine about as future proof as an 8-track stereo at this point.

This article describing Scorpio as " the only console that renders 4K natively " (nope) shows how effective the muddying of the waters has been.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
4K TVs can't increase the internal resolution or actually improve graphics at an engine level, so the 'upscaling' is a really poor comparison between them. Fundamentally, for its shortcomings the PS4 Pro is still more than twice as powerful as the PS4.

As for the topic, based on my calculations, the Scorpio could just about manage native 4K gaming but like PCs with similar specs, it will be a struggle. They do have an advantage though and can at least get closer to that 4K ideal.
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Robert Bantin Senior Audio Programmer, Massive Entertainment2 years ago
I keep asking "Where's extra memory going to come from to make all this worthwhile?" PS4 Pro is still an 8Gb machine. Maybe Scorpio will double it up. Maybe not.

And if the consensus is "audio will give some over to graphics" then all I have to say is "Not on my watch buddy". Only not as politely...
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Jeff Kesselman CTO/Architect/Lead Engineer 2 years ago
AR is most useful for assisting real world tasks, but is a very difficult proposition to try to design entertainment for.

VR totally isolates you from the real world, so its not good for assisting existing tasks, but is much *better* for entertainment because you have control over the entire user experience.

One is not "better" then the other. They just have different use cases.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeff Kesselman on 23rd September 2016 6:45pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
28inch 4k monitor vs 28inch 1080p monitor from one (1) foot (30cm) away.

What you see:
the 1080p monitor has a screendoor effect similar to VR headsets. Use magnifying glasses to bring them out and never "unsee" them afterwards. The 4k monitor has that look you know from retina displays, i.e. no screendoor effect.

What you do not see:
more details when watching movies or playing games. An upsampled 1080p can have a slightly more blurry look when being upsampled to 4k. But that mostly depends on the game and its resources. Low poly games with textures not made for 1080 will suffer more than current AAA games.

Again, that is only visible once I get close enough for the 28 inch monitor to fill almost my entire central field of vision. If the UI has some info in the corner of the screen I already have to move my head. Any of that slight advantage 4k might offer quickly disappears in your living room setting, where the TV has far less than your entire field of vision. The entire 4k PR battle is little more corporate trolling. Check the native resolution of "4k" home cinema projectors. 4k is overhyped snake oil at the moment.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 2 years ago
There's literally no reason to buy the Pro, particularly if you already own a PS4.
It definitely seems like Sony failed to make this as future proof as Microsoft has the Scorpio positioned to be. And Microsoft still has time to improve the Scorpio even more before launch next fall.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Microsoft is supplied by AMD, ultimately Xbox performance depends on what AMD can offer. One look at the AMD GPU roadmap will tell you that AMD's biggest leap was the shrink from 28nm to 14nm, which Sony immediately cashed in on. The only improvement planned for 2017 is moving from GCN 4.0 to 5.0. That will not be a change big enough to make third party games impossible on the PS4pro. The Scorpio might be faster, but it will not be as fast as to make the PS4 look old. Worst case, we see another round of publishers having to adhere to rules concerning visual quality parity between platforms.

AMD is currently trying to make a fast push for 7nm fabrication. Both Sony and MIcrosoft may have the chance to upgrade the hardware again within the next 24-36 months. There might not be a reason to really future-proof consoles anymore. The PC has shown that as long as you can retain compatibility, a couple of resolutions and texture settings will not kill anyone.
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Paul Acevedo Games Editor, Windows Central2 years ago
@Jordan Lund: You continue to overlook the fact that the PS4 Pro is actually more powerful than the regular PS4. It can run games better than the regular PS4, and its proprietary 4K upscaling solution will provide better results than native 4K TV upscalers (in supported games).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Acevedo on 25th September 2016 1:08pm

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Nelsun Rivera Mixed Media 2 years ago
Pro is a midpoint to the PS5. It will become the defacto PS4 version by next year. When Scorpio aproaches we will hear the rumblings of the PS5 that will more than likely be higher spec. This will diminish the Scorpio bandwagon. This is of course all speculation but is not the Scorpio only ink on paper at this time.

Eventually these machines will melt into PCs or vice versa. The actual content is what will be the deciding factors. To me it is always what drove my gaming decisions. What has driven all of my entertainment decisions. Do we buy Lamborghinis or Ferraris to drive on a crowed busy street when the speed limit is 25mph? Or would you prefer to make that engine roar on the Autoban? Some do like to show off. But a true enthusiast wants to get what they pay for.

Maybe not the best comparison but Metaphor and anology aside.. Give me Great entertainment and experiences and I give you my almighty currency.
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