Why Xbox Series X and PS5 may not live up to the 'next-gen' graphics promise, at least initially (update)

Unreal Engine 5
Unreal Engine 5 (Image credit: Epic Games)

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.

Scorn Teaser Trailer

Source: Ebb Software (Image credit: Source: Ebb Software)

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.

Scarlet Nexus

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

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.

Unreal Engine 5

Source: Epic Games (Image credit: Source: Epic Games)

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.

  • The PS5 reveal made a good argument to invest more in my PC. The graphic's enhancement compared to Xbox One X and PS4 Pro were small enough I don't think I would notice while playing. My graphic card is not on par with these new consoles, but it is better than this generation's pro versions. I just need a better monitor.
  • Completely disappointed with the launch titles, specially Grand Turismo 7, it looks just ok, WTF are they doing with all the horsepower of the gpu, cpu, yadayada? Getting tired of hearing about the fast SSD, we need a leap in graphics quality not loading times, people don't mind waiting for GTA V to load when the game look amazing when it launched.
  • Well, the card they're basing the GPU on is for 1440p gaming. I wouldn't expect like every game to be 4K 60 FPS.
  • The PS4pro was 4.2TF using GCN 1, even with RDNA 2.0 the PS5 is at best 3.5x the power and most PS4 Pro patches pushed games to 1440p native or used reconstruction tech such as checkerboard rendering to hit 4k30. True native 4K of a PS4 game would have need another 50% on the GPU and to go from 30fps to 60fps doubles your GPU load (you half the render time of a frame, you double the GPU load) so all of a sudden you looking at needing 12TF of GPU power using GCN 1. the PS5 is at best going to offer 13 tf of equivalent performance vs the PS4 pro (10tf + 30% thanks to RDNA, Digital foundry did a great video showing this) but with this devs are then left little to no room to improve graphics over all. If you stay at 30fps all of a sudden you half your GPU load and have loads of power to really push draw distances and effects. For single player games though, so long as they are well optimised and input latency is low I dont mind it. The main issue with 30fps is input latency and Xbox are doing a lot of work to really improve this. Personally I would love to see games like Horizon Forbidden West have an option of 4K30 with high graphics vs a 60Fps mode running with CBR and maybe a couple of settings turned down. I have a 4K monitor and 1800p looks 95% as good as 4K but reduces GPU load anywhere from 15-25% depending on the game.