4K gaming and movie streaming via next gen games consoles is rapidly shaping up to be a pipe dream.
When the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One first broke cover there was a roiling cauldron of speculation that the new consoles might (at some point) usher in a new era of Ultra HD game graphics or at the very least act as a conduit for 4K movies.
Executives from rival camps didn't exactly go out of their way to downplay their potential. Months later, official references to 4K remain cautiously worded. The cauldron has cooled.
I reckon both the PS4 and Xbox One landed too early for 4K to be a realistic proposition. Sony began conceptualising the new PlayStation back in 2008, the Xbox One would have had a similar gestation period. Dollars to donuts neither were conceived with 4K in mind.
4K on consoles? Forget it
The Xbox One's 4K aspirations are particularly difficult to swallow. The console can't even deliver on its promise of an integrated set top box EPG experience outside of the US, and is troubled by 50Hz TV. And let's not mention the fact Call of Duty: Ghosts runs at a modest HD Ready 720p.
In its current PS4 FAQ, Sony says only this about possible 4K gaming and movie content: 'Support for high-resolution 4K output for still images and movie content is in consideration, but there are no further details to share at this time. PS4 does not currently support 4K output for games.'
'In consideration'? I asked Sony for something rather more definitive, but received a brusque 'No comment.' The PS3 may have been a Trojan Horse for the Blu-ray disc format, but its successor isn't even going to be a Shetland Pony for 4K.
Early talk about a 4K expansion of the brand's Video Unlimited streaming service has so far come to naught, and Netflix 4K is certainly not heading to either console.
The streaming VoD service, which will debut on 2014 4K UHD screens from Samsung, LG, Sony and Visio, requires a hardware HEVC h.265 decoder to work, something missing from both consoles.
4K could be hacked in
One possible workaround could be a bolt-on accessory that offers HEVC decoding and HDMI 2.0 connectivity. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, although Sony Worldwide Studios' Shuhei Yoshida certainly doesn't seem particularly interested in positioning the PS4 as an AV gadget, so I doubt such a peripheral will be fast-tracked any time soon. The PS4 isn't even 3D Blu-ray compatible.
Both consoles sport HDMI 1.4 outputs, which limits 4K to 30HZ/frames per second. For a UHD gaming experience, this just isn't good enough.
Such a hardware limitation isn't quite the insurmountable problem it might first appear, though. Sony has already issued a firmware update for its 2013 X9 4K TVs which also use HDMI 1.4, enabling them to support 60HZ high frame rate content. The processing overhead required for 4K gaming is likely to prove a more challenging conundrum.
The simple solution, of course, is to just let your 4K TV upscale the PS4 and Xbox One as is, something it will do spectacularly well.
Curved TVs to the rescue?
Why curved TVs are a bad idea
So is there really any point in buying a TV that bends it like Beckham? If you're a normal punter, absolutely none at all
Interestingly, the new trend for curved 4K UHD TVs strikes me as particularly suitable for gaming. At Samsung's European Forum this week, the brand tub-thumped curved screens relentlessly, claiming them to be more immersive than a witch's ducking stool.
When it comes to movies, this may be errant nonsense, but the screens do deliver fairground dizziness with fast moving content when you sit centrally - a POV sequence of a verdant valley fly-through left me and others feeling positively nauseous. This could work well with Forza Motorsport 5 and its ilk.
Ultimately, if you want 4K gaming consider the PC. Nvidia showed just how gobsmacking this tech can be when it demo'd a 4K gaming rig at the recent International CES.
The showcase utilised three synced Panasonic WT600 55-inch 4K TVs, driven by four GeForce Titan graphics cards connected via DisplayPort, housed in a monster desktop built by Origin PC.
As for consoles, I'm betting 4K gaming won't really take off until the Xbox Two (that monicker's going to need a little work) and PlayStation 5. And by then we'll probably all be speculating about 8K, or too immersed in our Oculus Rift VR headsets, to care.
Why 2014 will be an amazing year of 4K content
If 2013 was the year of the 4K Ultra HD TV, then 2014 (or as I now like to call it 2014K) is fast shaping up to be the year of 4K content. Whether you want to create your own or kick-back and watch something rather more professional, it's all going down this year.
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