With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles, a new “big number” has dragged on into the daylight: 8K.
There is nothing worse than a technological fad when it comes to gaming consoles. You may be old enough to remember the console wars where you end up like “explosion processingAnd how many “bits” a console had, dominated the conversation around these devices.
Marketing professionals love simple numbers where more is better. It means a potential buyer can look at two products and choose a higher one, even if they don’t really understand what they mean.
So what is the PS5 8K game? Is it worth it? We bury the confusion once and for all.
What does “8K” mean?
The terms HD (high definition), FHD (full high definition), 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) and 8K are just shorthand for different resolution standards. That is, how many rows and columns of pixels a particular image or screen can show you.
An FHD display has 1920 columns and 1080 rows of pixels arranged in a grid. This is a total of 207,3600 pixels.
A 4K display doubles both numbers to 3840 × 2160. Multiplying the columns by rows produces 8294400 pixels. Exactly four times the FHD number.
The 8K quadruples back to 7680 × 4320 by 33177600 pixels. This is four times the 4K resolution and sixteen times the FHD resolution.
The larger the pixel count of a screen, the more details can be seen. Assuming you have an image of the same quality to display. Although the amount of detail that appears in the image is not the same as the amount of detail that the human eye can see.
Why is 8K gaming so difficult?
Unlike a pre-recorded movie, a video game has to calculate the exact value of each pixel on the screen in real time. Because video games are interactive media, images cannot be prepared in advance. You control the movement of the camera and the choices made in the game, so there is a very tight feedback loop from where you give commands to the game using a controller and the image on the screen changes in response.
While the level of difficulty in rendering (that’s all it takes to make the image) doesn’t scale in a straight line as the resolution increases, it’s not far off. This implies that to render a game at 8K, you need (up to) sixteen times the processing power compared to rendering it at FHD.
If you can’t increase the amount of processing power that your console (or computer) has, you need to use other methods to reduce your workload:
- Reduce the frame rate by providing more time to do the math for each image, but with a more staggered motion.
- Decrease the quality of the representation. (e.g. shadow details, particle effects, etc.)
In both cases, swap details in another area to free up resources for higher resolution. Therefore, you may have a sharper image, but the rendering is less pleasing to see or works less smoothly.
Will there really be 8K games on PS5 and Xbox Series X?
We have no doubt that there will be some titles that offer an 8K resolution mode at some point in the future. There are many simpler video games that would have no problem working well with this resolution. We also hope that some games compatible with earlier versions of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation (and earlier) can get 8K resolution improvements.
Running new triple A to 8K quality games on existing console hardware can be safely considered out of reach. At least if the games are presented at a “native” resolution of 8K. Currently, video games can use dynamic resolution technology to represent each frame at the resolution required to achieve a specific frame rate. Therefore, it is conceivable that some games may dynamically target 8K, although they rarely arrive.
Can I play 8K today?
Even if you have one of the rare (and incredibly expensive) 8K screens on the market today, you still won’t be able to get 8K output on either the PS5 or Xbox Series X. There are no games in any of the two platforms that support this resolution. Although “8K” is announced in the new console package, it is a feature that has yet to be activated.
Currently, the only place you can play 8K is on a gaming PC. Even then, the use of the most powerful gaming hardware on Earth does not offer excellent results, with serious compromises or upload technology needed to achieve playable frame rates.
120Hz and 4K are worth taking care of
Borderlands 3 supports 120 Hz games on the console.
With the latest generation of consoles, 8K resolution is not so relevant. However, there are other aspects of these machines that are worth examining for the average player.
The CPUs of the PS5 and Xbox X series are powerful enough to make gaming with a high frame rate possible. If you have a TV that supports 120 Hz images, you can enjoy a growing number of games that have 120 fps modes. This offers hyper smooth movement and a sharper responsiveness. In most cases, this costs the cost of resolutions below 4K or even below FHD, but has a much more dramatic effect on the game than an 8K resolution.
So far, the most interesting point of this generation is to play at 60 frames per second at a 4K-oriented resolution, which is achieved for many cross-generation or previous-generation titles. At normal viewing distances, 4K is noticeably sharper than FHD and doubling the frame rate from 30 frames per second to the latest generation at 60 is a dramatic improvement. Virtually all modern flat screen displays support 60 Hz output, so it’s also a much more affordable option.
8K is not worth it, for now.
One of the biggest problems with the 8K concept is that we are reaching the limits of how much detail the human eye can perceive. At least when it comes to typical viewers, sitting at normal viewing distances relative to screen size.
In early 2020, results of to study were published where participants participated in a double-blind experiment. Each participant was shown an 8K or 4K image and had to rate which one looked best. On average, most people don’t know how to differentiate themselves, although oddly enough people with a vision above 20/20 might know what 8K was or wasn’t with better accuracy. The overall conclusion is that the perceived improvement from 4K to 8K is the one most people can’t see and even those who can’t consider it especially dramatic.
This is a different situation from the obvious increase in sharpness ranging from FHD to 4K. Again, an FHD image is hardly blurred judging on its own merits. Even 4K is indistinguishable from FHD if you are too far from the screen in relation to its size.
What is the end result? Let’s put it this way:
- Gaming at 8K requires a lot of processing power, which consoles and even high-end computers don’t have, unless the game is older or relatively simple.
- 8K TVs and 8K content are currently virtually non-existent.
- A 4K resolution with better refresh rates, contrast, and color will create a much more dramatic improvement in perceived image quality than 8K itself.
At this time, we do not recommend anyone save 8K. It will take a long time (if ever) for this next resolution step to be relevant, and it certainly won’t be practical on current PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles.