Later this year, Microsoft will launch the Xbox One Scorpio- this will be, they have stated repeatedly, the most powerful home console ever built, a ‘beast’ with a 6 TFLOPs GPU. Notably, this is a summary of what Microsoft’s executives have themselves said about the system at various times ever since its unveil at E3 last year. The Scorpio, we have been told, will be a pretty big deal.
On the whole, it’s not hard to see how the new system might be exciting technology- a 6TFLOPs GPU is absolutely monstrous for any home console (the PlayStation 4 Pro, which is currently the most powerful home console ever built, has a 4.2 TFLOPs GPU), and there is as of right now empirically no doubt that the Scorpio will be the most powerful home console of all time. These are not claims that can be disputed to any meaningful degree whatsoever. If new technology interests you, then the Scorpio should be on your radar.
"It’s not hard to see how the new system might be exciting technology- a 6TFLOPs GPU is absolutely monstrous for any home console (the PlayStation 4 Pro, which is currently the most powerful home console ever built, has a 4.2 TFLOPs GPU), and there is as of right now empirically no doubt that the Scorpio will be the most powerful home console of all time."
However, there is something else that stands out about Microsoft’s repeated claims regarding the Scorpio- their insistence that the console will be the world’s first and only system capable of ‘true 4K.’ By true 4K, we presume they mean achieving 4K resolutions natively on the system, without having to resort to upscaling techniques such as Checkerboard rendering, which PS4 Pro relies on, owing to it lacking the power to render most games in 4K natively. However, there are multiple caveats to Microsoft’s chosen marketing angle here.
Let’s start with the most obvious- first off, the Scorpio is not going to be the only console capable of true 4K output. Even the PS4 Pro achieves that natively, without any upscaling, on at least some of its games. While these games are usually not as graphic or resource intensive, this is already a chink in Microsoft’s armor as far as marketing the new system goes.
However, comparisons with the PS4 Pro are not what I am looking at doing here (even though I am positive that they will, if at least implicitly, be Microsoft’s focal point for marketing the system)- instead, I want to tackle their claims of the system achieving native 4K. Microsoft has repeatedly made associations between Scorpio and ‘true 4K gaming’ over the last few months- at this point, native and true 4K resolution is expected for Scorpio, and Scorpio games.
This… could in fact be a problem. While 6TFLOPs is likely to be enough grunt to allow for most Xbox One games to run in native 4K on Scorpio (remember, Scorpio isn’t going to have exclusives of its own- all games it has must run on standard Xbox One systems too. Running Xbox One targeted games in 4K would definitely be easier than running a game targeted at the Scorpio’s specs in 4K would be), there are bound to be exceptions. In fact, some of the most ambitious games, whatever they are, are probably going to be exceptions here. Even on the PS4, which billed itself as the machine that could play any game in 1080p at launch, there are numerous games that fail to hit that resolution with any meaningful consistency resulting into an outcry upon each of those games’ failure to hit that resolution.
"By true 4K, we presume they mean achieving 4K resolutions natively on the system, without having to resort to upscaling techniques such as Checkerboard rendering, which PS4 Pro relies on, owing to it lacking the power to render most games in 4K natively."
In fact, if you remember, an actual lawsuit was brought up against Sony when it came to light that Killzone Shadow Fall doesn’t run at native 1080p resolutions, as was promised. Customers felt that the marketing for the console and the game had been misleading. And while I am not going to make the argument about that in case of Scorpio, I think it is clear that customers today are far more responsible than they used to be before- they hold companies to their word, they ensure they remain accountable.
This means that, barring maybe a few exceptions, there shouldn’t ideally be a Scorpio game that can’t achieve native 4K rendering. Ordinarily, we would accept that Microsoft will be able to achieve that without issue – 6 TFLOPS sounds like it would be just enough to achieve that resolution natively for most Xbox One spec level games, and Microsoft has some very talented software engineers in place who could program and design a development environment to make the process easier for all developers – but there is some troubling evidence that suggests the contrary may be true.
Some time ago, a report by Digital Foundry (who, as you all know, have an exceptional track record, having accurately leaked the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, and Nintendo Switch previously) suggested that Microsoft is suggesting its own equivalent of Checkerboard rendering for quite a few games and situations in its developer guidelines and recommendations for the Scorpio. Now, again, ordinarily this isn’t an issue- game resolution doesn’t quite matter as much, and as any PS4 Pro owner will tell you, Checkerboard 4K already makes a major difference over existing 1080p resolutions. However, when Microsoft’s entire nexus of marketing the Scorpio so far has been the assertion that it can achieve true, native 4K, then it could find itself in hot waters if that Digital Foundry report holds true.
"If the Scorpio fails to hit native 4K for any game, then Microsoft suffers a major loss in confidence and perception. And as this generation has taught us, perception can be everything."
All of which is to say- Microsoft needs to ensure that doesn’t happen. I am sure some games late in the system’s life cycle will fail to achieve the promised resolution. But by that point, I also don’t think most will care. I am talking about the immediate future, the first 18 months or so of the console’s existence- if the Scorpio fails to hit native 4K in most games, then Microsoft suffers a major loss in confidence and perception. And as this generation has taught us, perception can be everything.
In the end, it doesn’t matter to me, nor should it matter to anybody, how many lines or dots on a screen show up when you play a game. But if Microsoft is selling you a piece of expensive gadgetry on a promise that a certain number will without any shortcuts used to achieve that result- well, then the onus is now on Microsoft to ensure that that does happen.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.