Why aren’t PS4 and Xbox One titles hitting 1080p? What’s happened to 4K?

Whether you sit on the Xbox or PlayStation side of the fence – both consoles have some undisputable grunt under their respective casings; yet many titles still aren’t even hitting 30FPS at native 1080p resolution, let alone the ideal 60FPS. Why is this?

The majority of the problem revolves around parity between console versions; many cite the Xbox One as not being powerful enough to handle many games at 1080p at a steady 60FPS – despite first party titles such as Forza 5 displaying otherwise.

From the outside, the issue seems to be developers’ initial issues getting to terms with the Xbox One’s unique ESRAM. Memory is one of important aspects of gaming; particularly in terms of caching for textures and other gameplay elements. So is Microsoft's worse? Not necessarily.

Both consoles use 8GB of RAM; but the difference is in the varied types of implementation. Sony’s PlayStation 4 uses fast GDDR5 RAM which is a well-understood and relatively simple option; allowing textures to be stored in advance with a max throughput of 176GB/s. Microsoft went with DDR3 - but with an additional 32MB of the more CPU efficient (but lesser-known) ESRAM - which combined can theoretically top out at an even faster 204GB/s.

Yet when PS4 titles such as Killzone: Shadow Fall are using 800MB for render targets alone; how difficult will it be for developers to work with just 32MB of fast memory for similar functions?

At Microsoft’s BUILD event this year; the team showed the hardware based tiled resources support added in DX11.2. Without going into all the technical talk, that’s available here, 3GBs of textures were able to be stored in 16MB of RAM.

It was previously thought that the ESRAM and DDR3 couldn’t be accessed simultaneously; this turned out to be false – as seen in an article with DigitalFoundry.

But there are pure GPU specs themselves to account for; the PS4 utilises 18 compute units, whilst the Xbox One uses 12 (although has 14, two are left redundant for ‘balancing’.) In a test, using similar PC hardware; the PS4 resulted in an average 24% improvement in game frame rates.

It’s this ‘balancing’ which Microsoft say they’ve worked tirelessly on getting perfect; which results will (or will not) be seen in time. The Xbox, in September, bumped the CPU speed in their console to 1.75 GHz – whilst the PS4 is (thought) to be at 1.6GHz.

Alongside the DDR3 RAM which should have less of a load on the CPU than the PS4’s GDDR5; Microsoft has also added innovative audio hardware dubbed SHAPE (Scalable Hardware Audio Processing Engine) – which should do a fantastic job for HD surround (a task that sucks up lots of CPU time on current-gen consoles.)

Once developers get used to the Xbox One’s quirks; it looks like the battle is still very much on between both camps. Whether PS4’s GPU prowess, or Xbox’s (potentially) faster CPU speed gives any real-world advantage is yet to be seen - but titles on both consoles should soon be hitting native 1080p/60FPS. The real question is, what about 4k?

4k TV sets are still relatively unknown and expensive; therefore sure not to be an immediate priority for Microsoft or Sony – who will be focusing on optimising performance for the widespread 1080p.

There is much debate around the benefits regarding the use of 4k; but NVIDIA do a great job of arguing the case for, calling it “the next big thing”.

Whilst true that the jump is nowhere near as noticeable as that of SD to HD - to say indistinguishable is quite highly false. With many of us now making use of 1080p displays on our phones the same resolution as our 32” home televisions; a lot of us will be looking to the next big thing.

So where does this leave our upcoming consoles? Whilst both can decode 4K for video playback; neither will be powerful enough for native gameplay at a usable frame rate (above 30FPS.) There is also the issue of the HDMI; currently at v1.4 supporting 24fps or 30fps – v2.0 isn’t set to release until later this year (with support for 60fps)

Consoles, as with the last generation, will be a step-behind the PC in this regard. Both the PS4 and Xbox One will support upscaling to 4K (as the previous did for 1080p) but won’t support natively.

This, I believe, could be where Valve’s recently announced Steambox plans may shine. Although likely very expensive; these PC-like consoles for your living room could pack some killer 4K capable hardware such as NVIDIA’s GTX SLI TITANs.

What do you think about the hardware Xbox One and PS4 hardware capabilities?

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27 Oct 2013, 2:47 a.m.

that 32 mb esram is just a framebuffer.. it may be lightning fast but its only 32 mb's... that will NEVER compare in real life to 8gb gddr5 high bandwidth graphics ram with a unified pipeline straight into the gpu that runs faster than the fastest pci express busses in pc's these days... Bandwidth is key in graphics programming these days when we are moving to larger and larger textures... they need bandwidth.. latency has a miniscule effect on graphics processing and this is on top of the gpu difference 1.8 tfs vs 1.2... 1152 shader pu's vs 768... and then for the future you have 62 asynchronous compute engines that sony had amd custom build into the gpu for them (which by the way amd is taking this idea and incorperating it into its next line of gpu's).. this will allow many of what where cpu computations before to be qued for the gpu.. its called general purpose computing on graphics processing units.. as the gpu is much more capable as its not serial its parallel... and sony even figured out a way to do this on the gpu's "off" cycles when its not busy rendering frames so it will have NO impact on framerate or graphics processing... Mark cerny has built and put a ton of thought into this system while MS only put a ton of thought into casual aspects such as kinect and tv and nfl to try and get more money from the masses. They put ddr3 in because compared to gddr5 its dirt cheap... they never expected sony to come out swinging with 8gb gddr5 unified in the ps4. Anyone who says ms went with ddr3 because of latency issues doesn't know what they are talking about... Bandwidth is the key to graphics processing especially at this moment in time when textures files are becoming so large.. i mean we got 50 gb game dl's ... those large hd texture files need bandwidth... latency has a minimal effect on graphics processing compared to bandwidth and the little effect latency might have had was on the cpu not the gpu but as stated before they added the 62 ace to offload much of those computations to the gpu so latency will really be a non factor for the ps4 in graphics processing... Sony has out gunned ms this time around and really it was mark cerny who did it.


7 Nov 2013, 9:32 p.m.

yes or no, does the 32mb of ESRAM have a 6gb rendering capacity as implied in the article above


2 Mar 2014, 1:33 p.m.

Did you even read the article? Do you know what residential textures are?
Like the guy said below, have you even look at the ESRAM part of the console. It has 6GB of data to render and that is actually quite a lot.

However this can vary if you think deep. If you think that it may be used on props or scenery and not just on the AI which are a lot larger than static scenery. Also note the Cloud support which you don't have. Microsoft just has so many tricks up it's sleeve that I think the PS4 will just drop on the spot.

Also note the technology hasn't been 'Activate' yet to accomodate these performance gaps so if it was activated at the beginning of release, Sony's 'so much better' PS4 would have been far far behind.

Here is more info if you feel 'Scepticle' http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/x1-esram-directx-11-2-from-32mb-to-6gb-worth-of-textures.453263349/


7 Nov 2013, 10:21 a.m.

Rosy Gomez - you clearly dit not understand th DX 11.2 and the genious setup with the 32 GB ESRAM. I think it makes a lot of sense - also that the setup is different and something the developers have to setup in a new way.

By the way do you remenber GTAV on PS3 it ran with a lover resolution than the PS4. But hey it was just a matter of the developers finding a way to program the beast.