Microsoft used their E3 press conference to announce the Xbox Scorpio. They're promising 4K gaming and something they call 'high quality pixels'. So what does that mean?
15-06-2016 - by Ferry Rovers
During Microsoft’s conference on Monday, the biggest surprise was their ending. Bravely they decided to enter the new hardware arena first. Buzzwords flying everywhere; true 4K gaming, 60 Hz rendering, uncompressed quality pixels, and many more. Even a small slip-up from one of their representatives (who talked about 'highest quality pixels', whatever that means) couldn’t stop the hypetrain. But now that the dust of the conferences has settled: Can it walk the walk?
AMD is a hardware/GPU manufacturer (just like Nvidia) who has laid out a roadmap a couple of years in advance. With this roadmap in hand, we can compare the specs and see how they match up. Somewhere this year their new Polaris product line (and architecture) will be released. For 2017, we see a new line called Vega. Later, in 2018 we see they are planning a product line called Navi.
In the past few months it has become quite obvious that the new PS4K Neo will utilize the AMD Polaris 10 graphics core.
Xbox Scorpio is, based on the announced specs, very unlikely to be using the Polaris architecture. Given the release is still far away and about a year later than the PS4K Neo, this is an understandable choice. Experts don’t see any realistic way to achieve that kind of power within the Polaris archecture, not to mention any heat issues that might arise.
So it is likely that Scorpio will utilize next year’s cores from the Vega family. This would mean the Xbox Scorpio is estimated to be roughly 40% more powerful than the PS4K Neo.
We heard Microsoft talk about the throughput (basically the amount of data that can be moved in a certain time) of its memory. The 320 GB/s they mentioned means they will move closer to PC and PS4 by using one memory pool. The sort of memory is still a big question mark though.
Microsoft has been extremely careful in choosing its words. The words 'True 4K Gaming' and '60 fps' have not been heard in the same sentences, and this causes some concern.
Hardware experts have mixed opinions about whether or not Scorpio can live up to its claims, and seem to agree that 4K Gaming at 60 fps will prove impossible. One of the reasons is that comparable 6 Teraflops graphics cards struggle with 4K @ 30 fps.
For your reference, a Teraflop is an indicator of the power of a video card. The term comes from the sentence “floating point operations per second”. A floating point is a number with a decimal point in it. The number of calculations a computer can do with these numbers is an strong indicator of capabilities. These floating points can be used to draw polygons, and move them around.
However, we are still more than a year away from launch, and we all know that console hardware will be stretched to its limits in the period leading up to launch. This means developers will likely find ways to squeeze a bit more juice out of it. If this is enough to comfortably pull off 4K gaming on modern titles remains to be seen.
A more likely scenario is one that we’ve seen in current generations as well, upscaling. Using a lower-resolution image and output it in 4K, providing some very good results. The added graphical fidelity it brings can work wonders too.
Looking at VR capabilities, there shouldn’t really be an issue. The new specs are easily outperforming the current suggested specs for Gen 1 VR headsets.
Well, the war between the two platform giants is taking an odd turn. From the design documents that leaked from Sony we know that even when they overclock everything in their spec, it will not be able to approach the Scorpio specs.
The PS4K Neo is an upgraded PS4 with a dedicated VR headset, the PSVR. This was probably one of the main reasons they decided on the upgraded version. The Scorpio however, seems to prepare for a number of different VR devices, and aims to provide support for the Second generation of VR as well.
One big issue here is pricing. Microsoft’s claim to make the most powerful console ever made, comes at a cost. The GPU will be more expensive, more DDR5 RAM will also take a fair share of extra costs. The total difference amounts to about a $100 difference between the PS4K Neo’s and Xbox Scorpio’s production cost.
The coming 20 months are going to be highly interesting, as both platforms will adjust their course and strategy to gain an edge. But Microsoft was the first one to blow the horn, signalling a new battle. The Scorpio might be the more powerful of the two, but with a (rumoured) year head start Sony might come out on top. However, if the PS4K Neo ends up releasing in March 2017, it might persuade customers to wait a couple of months and invest in a bigger upgrade.
So what's going to happen? Only time will tell. The initial announcement of Project Scorpio has been awfully early, and that means the degree of uncertainty is higher than usual. But Microsoft put their cards on the table, the ball is now with Sony.