Shortly after the Xbox 360 was released, gamers who played the new console on older, standard definition televisions complained that certain games essentially required a high definition connection even though the console was supposed to support both formats.
It technically did, but those playing on high definition televisions were treated to a noticeably better experience. Some games, like Dead Rising, were almost impossible to play in standard definition due to the in-game text in that title being almost unreadable when viewed in that format.
Controversy aside, the drastic difference between HD and SD on the Xbox 360 made it clear to fans everywhere that a new age was indeed upon us. Sooner or later, non-HD games were going to be a thing of the past.
Some are saying that the same is true of 4K gaming today. After all, Sony has already released their 4K gaming system – the PlayStation 4 Pro – and Microsoft is preparing to release Project Scorpio; a console that will likely emphasize native 4K gaming like no other system ever has.
Just because 4K consoles are hitting the market, though, doesn’t mean that we’re ready for an all 4K gaming future. In fact, we’re likely at least a few years away from that.
Why is 4K different from HD in that respect? First of all, the difference between 4K and HD is not as great as the difference between HD and SD. HD to 4K is like going from DVD to Blu-Ray, whereas SD to HD was like going from VHS to DVD. Sure, 4K looks fantastic, but it doesn’t completely change the game.
The biggest reason that we’re a few years removed from a 4K gaming future, though, is that developers really aren’t ready for one. Early HD games like the ones for Xbox 360 were designed primarily as HD titles. They supported SD technology, but they were clearly intended to be played in high-definition.
To date, there’s not a single 4K supported game you can make that claim for. The closest we’ve come to such a thing is the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn. Even in the case of that game, the average consumer would need to see several side-by-side shots to really appreciate the 4K difference.
Gaming isn’t going to properly enter the 4K era until developers make titles that leave non-4K gamers with no doubt that they are playing an inferior version of a game. No studio is going to start developing those games until console creators make a 4K system their company flagbearer.
Neither the PS4 Pro or Project Scorpio can be considered that system. They’re billed as systems for hardcore “niche” markets who demand the best technology possible.
Those markets are going to remain niche until a few years down the line when the only current consoles on the market are those that treat 4K as the only real way to play. Until then, 4K will remain a superior option.