If you have even superficially been paying any attention to the world of video games in the last few weeks, you no doubt have gotten a little glimpse into the controversy surrounding the Xbox One's launch lineup's resolution output. Most games, including Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, are going to natively run in 720p upon release, a far cry from the expected 1080p benchmark of next-generation hardware. This has become the topic of mercurial debate and fanboy bomb throwing on most gaming specific internet sites. The Xbox One seems to have become this gaming cycle's most reviled system, and after a shaky introduction this past May, Microsoft and their new hardware just can't seem to get a break. The resolution issue is just the latest in a long sequence of PR damaging news, and with only a few weeks before the Xbox One's launch, it may have become the deciding factor for those contemplating about which next-gen console to purchase. But is this resolution controversy really that big of a deal? If we use history as an indicator, all signs point to the conclusion that this issue is being blown way out of proportion.
It's Still Early In The New Console Cycle
Does anyone remember a launch lineup for any new video game console where the first-generation games looked better than the games that released in the latter stages of that console's lifespan? No? That is because this simply doesn't happen. During the transitional period between console generations, the developer's lack of familiarity with the new hardware and their accommodation to the routine of developing games for the outgoing generation's technology, combined with the pressure of meeting launch date deadlines, typically results in first-generation games that look marginally better than what consumers are used to on their current platforms. As time transpires, developers learn new techniques to best exploit the power of the tech they have at their disposal, and for some platforms, this takes more time than for others.
You may be asking this question: Why are PlayStation 4 games already running in 1080p? It is important to note that the Xbox One is a very complex and sophisticated multimedia machine designed to multitask whenever powered on. This console has 3 independent operating systems running in parallel while allocating resources to power the Kinect. Now it is debatable as to the benefits of this architectural design during this early stage, especially regarding the Kinect, and the merits of these benefits are impossible to test until the console makes its way into gamers' homes. What is possible to ascertain is that the division of the distribution of the system's resources hampers the developer's capability to optimize certain aspects of their games such as resolution. Given more time and better familiarization with the hardware, along with improvements to driver software, it is likely that developers would have been able to pull off 1080p resolutions, but the frantic and stressful launch period may have curtailed this possibility. The PS4 was designed to ease game development, and it lacks the multidimensional functionality of the Xbox One, allowing developers to focus the majority of the system's computational power to run games. There is little doubt that the Xbox One will be running most games in 1080p in the near future when developers get a grasp of the hardware. If most games are not running in 1080p on the Xbox One in 1 or 2 years after its release, then Microsoft will have a serious problem trying to justify the system's high-end price-tag.
Technical Limitations Never Bothered PlayStation Fans
Does anyone remember a little title called The Last of Us? It seems to be almost a consensus of opinion among the video game community that this game displays some of the most incredible graphics of the current-generation of gaming consoles. Apparently, the fact that The Last of Us renders its graphics in the native 720p resolution doesn't seem to have disrupted people's opinions about the title's graphical prowess; in fact, it never enters into the conversation. This is because there is more about graphics than just resolution. The Last of Us benefits from a combination of factors: a strong art design, impeccable motion-capture animation, a great voice cast, and the fact that the title is a Sony exclusive.
The most successful video game console of all-time was, undeniably, the PlayStation 2. It is interesting to note that out of all of the major sixth generation consoles – a generation that included the Gamecube and Xbox – the PS2 was technically the least powerful. This little fact didn't prevent the system from outselling the first Xbox by about 120 million units. What did help Sony easily surpass its competition was the quality of its library of games. Back then, PlayStation fans were well aware of this and the PS2's technical limitations were of no concern to them. They focused on enjoying great games, not technological superiority. This is and should be what the video game hobby is all about – enjoying games. Today, a perceived technical shortfall is cause for a frenzied controversy and irrational vitriol while in the PS2's era this wasn't an issue. It is clear that both the Xbox One and PS4 are very advanced systems that both offer new innovations in the way players experience video games and other forms of digital entertainment. It is unfortunate that the Xbox One is perceived as the weaker of the two at this early stage of the next-generation due to the designers' decisions in how to utilize its power. The PS4 may prove to be more technologically advanced than the Xbox One, however, history has shown that technological superiority doesn't always correlate to a ubiquity of great games; this is a fact that PlayStation fans know well, yet they choose to ignore this when applying the same set of standards they've established for themselves and their preferred console to the fans and tech of the competition.
Most Consumers Won't Notice a Difference Between 720p and 1080p
It is both myopic and a reckless mistake to assume that all video game consumers are technophiles. Most people don't even know what 720p and 1080p mean let alone perceive the difference on screen. The only way to accurately distinguish a difference between the two resolutions is to do a side-by-side comparison, an effort most people wouldn't inconvenience themselves with. Optimizing television settings, connecting game systems, and navigating through complex menus are still like performing rocket science for many mainstream consumers, and a marginal difference in visual fidelity isn't going to matter to them. What most people will perceive, however, are game performance issues such as frame rate stutters and pauses, clipping, and screen tearing. Any impediment to the player's enjoyment of a game will remain most salient to them when casting judgment about the quality of that product. If the Xbox One manages to produce high-quality games devoid of these kinds of performance issues, then shouldn't that rank higher than resolution when formulating an opinion regarding the fun factor of a video game?
The lower resolution output controversy surrounding the Xbox One is a pitiful excuse for people to base their buying decisions upon. History has proven that this has never been an issue for successful platforms in the past, and most people won't even notice the difference, anyway. Besides, this technical limitation is more than likely only a temporary issue that will fade away into obscurity when developers better familiarize themselves with the hardware. This debate is currently being perpetuated by folks who have a focused agenda to spread propaganda in order to turn people against Microsoft and the Xbox One. These same people who would praise their preferred game system's library despite its perceived technical “inferiority” in the past won't afford the competition the same benefit of the doubt in the present, proving their disingenuousness. These people should be avoided and ignored. For the rest of us, we should just concentrate on playing the games we want to play, and buying the systems that run them. We are currently standing at the dawn of a new console generation, and the potential ramifications for the future of the industry that both new consoles represent are very exciting to ponder. As it stands now, this Xbox One resolution controversy is one of the most manufactured and overblown debates that I have seen in the history of the video game industry.