Why Xbox Series X and PS5 may not live up to the 'next-gen' graphics promise, at least initially (update)
Updated June 12, 2020: The long-rumored PS5 reveal took place on Thursday. While a lot of titles were announced, the visual quality on display showed us that the next generation is not going to be a huge leap forward visually. An Xbox event is set to take place in July, so we'll know even more then.
It's no secret that both Microsoft and Sony have been somewhat boasting about how the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (PS5) will offer unparalleled performance and reach frame rates of 120. However, this week was somewhat of a rude awakening for both, because it seems like 30 frames per second (FPS) is still going to be a part of the next-generation experience.
Let's start off with the Xbox Series X. A few days ago, the General Manager of Xbox Games Marketing at Microsoft, Aaron Greenberg, appeared to claim that 60 FPS would be the "standard output" for the machine. However, the next day, Ubisoft revealed that Assassin's Creed Valhalla would run at "at least 30 FPS" on Xbox Series X. The company wasn't able to confirm a higher frame rate. After that, Greenberg mentioned that "60 FPS is not a mandate." Developers can make games that are still 30 FPS.
This effectively means that we should expect 30 FPS games on Xbox Series X, at least initially. While here's hoping that the team at Ubisoft will be able to push the console to native 4K resolution and 60 FPS, there's no guarantee. We'll have to wait until Holiday 2020 – or when the company wants to talk about the visual quality before then – to get a concrete answer.
Now let's talk about the PS5. Recently, Epic Games announced that Unreal Engine 5 would support Xbox Series X and Sony's machine. The company even gave us a demo of some stunning footage. It looks incredible with great textures and lighting, but that's where the great news ends. The PS5 footage was rendering at mostly 1440p and 30 FPS, according to Digital Foundry. It didn't even feature ray-tracing, which is touted as a next-generational feature for providing more dynamic lighting and reflections.
It takes a while to get engines properly optimized for consoles, but if you remember the discussion around the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, developers were saying they hit 4K within days because they were so easy to code for. Yet, as we leap into the next-generation, Ubisoft is only confirming 30 FPS for a major game, and Epic Games is showcasing a 1440p 30 FPS Tomb Raider-style tech demo. Of course, these are only limited samples, but it doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of systems gunning to launch relatively soon in the latter half of 2020.
Hopefully, towards the end of 2021, we'll see developers utilize both consoles to the best of their abilities. It usually takes a year from the time they're readily available to hit that mark, and we haven't really seen real in-game footage that showcases the hardware as of writing. Microsoft's demonstrations from May's Inside Xbox were heavily cut, and could realistically not be representative of the end product.
There are a lot of reasons to consider these next-generation consoles. The work Microsoft is doing to reduce loading times with Xbox Velocity Architecture is incredibly impressive, as is Sony's dedication to its NVME SSD, 3D audio, and some of the features promised in its next controller. However, if you're looking at the next Xbox or PlayStation to blow your mind with a staggering leap in visuals, it's clear that's not likely to happen on launch day.
There will likely be some improvements for sure, especially when it comes to lighting, but that may not be enough for everyone to feel like they're getting their money's worth. And if you're one of those people, you would be forgiven for thinking there might not be an immediate benefit to picking up a new console on launch day this time.
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