The next big gimmick in TV is finally here.
At last week's Consumer Electronics Show, every television manufacturer and content provider was happy to announce their plans for the impending release of "Ultra HD" televisions.
Ultra HD, also known as "4K," is a new screen resolution coming to televisions, just as "720p" and "1080p" came before.
In comparison to a 1080p TV, a 4K set will have four times the resolution packed into the same number of inches. Upgrading will be like the transition to Retina displays on smartphones: 4K content will look beautiful, but stuff made for 1080p won't look that much better, if at all.
Video games fall into that latter category. Games made for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are made for 1080p, so they'll still look the same on the new, expensive 4K sets coming out this year.
But even if game developers for these systems wanted to make higher-resolution content for these new screens, it turns out that it likely isn't even possible: the hardware in the newest consoles simply can't handle outputting such detail.
As CNET's Nic Healey reported back in November, it's unlikely that either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One support the newest HDMI standard.
That means the port that connects to your TV can only output games at a maximum of 30 frames per second at 4K resolution, not the 60 that is considered ideal. Basically, that means that games would be really choppy, a dealbreaker for most gamers.
While it's rumored that Sony might be able to fix the issue with a software update, there's an even bigger problem with both consoles. Their graphics processors can play games with beautiful characters, environments, and lighting. But it doesn't seem like they can do both at the same time.
"Ryse," one of the prettiest games among the Xbox One's launch line-up, is actually rendered at 900p and then "upscaled" to 1080p. It's the gaming equivalent of playing a DVD on an HD television — it looks decent, but you're not really utilizng the screen.
If the Xbox One can't handle intense graphics at 1080p, 4K is pretty much out of the question.
While the PlayStation 4 is slightly more powerful than the Xbox One, it seems that Sony's console isn't going to support Ultra HD gaming either.
From Sony's PlayStation 4 FAQ:
Will PS4 support 4K content for video or gaming?
Support for high-resolution 4K output for still images and movie content is in consideration, but there are no further details to share at this time. PS4 does not currently support 4K output for games.
In summary: TV makers are going to try to sell you expensive new 4K TVs in 2014. If you're a gamer, it isn't worth it.
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