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article imageMicrosoft and Sony are battling over what '4K' actually means

By James Walker     Sep 19, 2016 in Technology
Both Microsoft and Sony are building new gaming consoles with next-generation features. The Xbox One "Scorpio" and PlayStation 4 Pro will each support 4K gaming, although their respective manufacturers have gone for different approaches.
In separate interviews, Microsoft and Sony have recently revealed their interpretations of 4K. Last week, Microsoft announced that it is building Project Scorpio for "native 4K." A day later, Sony said the PS4 Pro will instead upscale existing games to the new format. While they sound similar, they mean different things.
Sony's take is the simpler and less advanced version. It could result in reduced quality, since games aren't actually rendered in the 3840x2160 pixels 4K standard. The PS4 Pro will convert existing Full HD games to 4K by using an internal framebuffer larger than 1080p. It can't create pixels that don't exist though, at least not with the same clarity as if they'd been rendered in 4K.
The console will output a full 4K signal but the image itself won't be directly rendered into the resolution, restricting games looking for the highest achievable quality. "I would say the majority will be upscaled — at least based on the game portfolio I have seen to date," Sony boss Andrew House told Digital Spy. To render directly into 4K, developers will need to look to Microsoft's Project Scorpio.
Microsoft Studios Publishing General Manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today that it's designing all its Scorpio games to "natively render at 4K." That means there'll be no upscaling, framebuffer trickery or other conversion factors. Games will be designed for 4K and will output their own 4K signals, theoretically creating a more detailed image than Sony's version of "4K."
Sony told Digital Spy that the upscaling technology it's creating for the PS4 Pro will allow lower resolution games to take full advantage of 4K screens. However, there's no hiding from the fact that upscaling can't ever fill in pixels to create an image with enough definition to rival a natively-rendered scene.
There are trade-offs to each approach. For its part, Sony's technology could allow all existing PS4 games to scale-up to 4K resolution, giving current titles a new leash of life. However, next-generation games may look better on the Xbox One, due to the ability to render directly into 4K and use higher-definition textures.
If Microsoft achieves its aim, the Xbox One will become the most powerful console on the market. Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro has just over four teraflops of raw computing power. Microsoft keeps claiming that Scorpio will boast 6 teraflops, making it the highest-performance console ever created. The current Xbox One is widely regarded to be slightly underpowered and less capable than the PlayStation 4. Microsoft is looking to change that with its next big release.
Microsoft does have the advantage of time when bringing the new Xbox to market. Sony will launch the PS4 Pro in November, in time for this year's holiday season. Scorpio won't be ready for at least another year, launching behind the PS4 Pro but offering substantially more power.
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