For the last few weeks, with little hesitation, game development sources have been telling Kotaku that the PlayStation 4 is more powerful and easier to develop for than the Xbox One. You may have heard this before. But our best sources don't expect that to have a huge impact on the graphics of games on both consoles.
"I think this is not going to be an issue in six months," one reliable game development source who is not affiliated with Microsoft or Sony told us. "It's just a bumpy time for launch is what it is."
This same source corroborated reports that multiple multiplatform launch games will launch running at a higher resolution on PS4 than Xbox One. Still, they don't expect any major, noticeable graphics differences to be long-term. They attribute this to gradual improvements made to the Xbox One hardware over the past year but more because they expect developers to overcome any headaches they're having developing for the new Xbox as they did with last generation's onerous PS3.
From what we've seen and heard about the graphics of games on both consoles, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are outputting impressive-looking games. The Xbox-only Ryse and the PlayStation-only Killzone: Shadow Fall both appear to be visual standouts.
Here's a video of each, though the comparison is imperfect. The Xbox game shows gameplay intercut with interviews. The PlayStation game is a story trailer. Both appear to have been shot and captured during the summer, ages ago in game development time.
Nevertheless, for much of the past week, restless rumours have pegged the multiplatform Call of Duty: Ghosts as having an inferior performance on the Xbox One. While we've not seen the games in action on finished units, two development sources have both told us that the scuttlebutt is true and that Ghosts runs at 1080p resolution on the PS4 and at 720p on the Xbox One. That's due to the power differential favouring the PS4's graphics processing unit and the ease of development on the Sony platform, they say.
The resolution difference is not close to the whole story. It remains a challenge to get a clear picture on how meaningful any launch day graphical disparities will be. Are they more due to the ease of development issue and are they therefore resolvable? Will developers wind up having to program for the supposedly weaker system going forward? Or, perhaps most meaningfully for gamers, will players find the differences noticeable enough to care?
Over night we got a decent case study to consider the consoles in comparison: captured video of EA's Battlefield 4 running on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We had not seen the games running on either next gen platform, though we'd heard that that game too was running at a higher resolution on PS4.
One of our sources on the resolution disparity, disagreeing with the one quoted above about the significance of graphical outputs on both platforms, had warned us that we'd spot differences.
Well, here's side-by-side video, captured by IGN:
Some gamers may look at the comparison and see the same game or a game that looks impressive enough on both machines. But others will surely spot differences, subtle as they may be. It likely depends on the extent to which gamers care. For the moment, at least, it doesn't look like we're seeing as stark difference as we would between, say, a PC game and an PS3/360 game.
Both Activision and EA reps did not comment to us on their games' performances on the two next-gen consoles (we tried!). We did ask Microsoft to share their thoughts on the graphical prowess of their machine in light of concern about lower resolutions. They shared this statement from a Microsoft spokesperson:
Thousands of fans are currently playing Xbox One games via our Area One tour and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. With launch a couple weeks away we encourage media and fans alike to play final games and judge for themselves. We've created a new generation system that offers amazing games that will run at 1080p either natively or upscaled. It is up to individual developers to determine what resolution best fits their design goals at launch. There is no single metric that can accurately predict how games will look and perform and it's much more than just pixel count. It's about the entire experience including game fidelity, how you access your games, your friends, the multiplayer experience and other new generation experiences only available on Xbox One. We believe Xbox One will be the premier place to play the new generation of games."
In previous generations, the relative power of competing consoles has not been a deciding factor. The PlayStation 2, ostensibly weaker than the Xbox, easily crushed its competition. It had the advantage of being out a year earlier and not being a new brand, of course. Both of those advantages are not in play in this new generation, which features an Xbox and a PlayStation launching, for the first time, essentially simultaneously.
For now, we're all seeing different pieces of a the graphics comparison. Kotaku staffers, for example, have seen Assassin's Creed IV running on various iterations of PS4 hardware but never on Xbox One. Some Battlefield 4 reviewers have seen the game on PS4 and Xbox One, but, in the case of YouTuber JackFrags, we're left with more than four hours of next-gen footage that shows us PS4 multiplayer and Xbox One single-player. Not quite apples to oranges.
Further complicating these questions is that, although numbers tend not to lie, they can easily mislead. While Forza 5 on Xbox One, for example, runs at 1080p according to Microsoft officials, Ryse, running at a 900p resolution, is the game about which we're hearing visual raves. For those interested in going down a rabbit hole of comparisons, gamers on the NeoGAF message board have been assembling GIFs that flash between each version. Some differences pop; some don't.
We're interested in discerning the extent to which any architectural differences in the two consoles pose any long-term differences in how games will run on the systems and will let readers know what we find out about that in the weeks and months to come. We'll also be keeping our eyes wide open when we finally get our hands on these consoles and start playing the games.
Also, remember the good news that no matter what games look like on day one of a console launch, games on that console five years from now will look wayyy better. Remember those launch 360 and PS3 games? GTA V they ain't.