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FEATURED VOXPOP oblivion437 Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that.  It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece.  I strongly recommend anyone...

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Why Resolution Doesn't DOESN'T Matter

Posted on Friday, February 28 @ 14:00:00 Eastern by


I can understand why some people are over the conversation about resolution, like Erik Kain at Forbes. Every console generation is the same-old "this console vs. this console: this one looks derp better", and now that aggregate sites and imageboards are all the rage, we're treated to multiple screenshot comparisons throughout the week.

On content, it's not a difficult article to make, unless it's an in-depth, well-edited video comparison. And while it's certainly useful information for those making a judgment on purchasing a game that's available on both consoles, these comparison articles are popular for their capacity for heat-generating flame-bait.

From the perspective of a reviewer, though, it's important to distance yourself from the graphics of a game, no matter how gorgeous and photo-realistic they are. A turd with pretty window-dressing and a toss of glitter is still a turd. Of course, publishers like Capcom decide to release an HD version of Resident Evil 4 or when Square Enix unfurls a Definitive version for Tomb Raider tend to choose critically-acclaimed titles for a reboot in the first place. And really, unless a pair of 720p and 1080p shots are placed next to each other, I can't really tell the difference anyway. Besides, when I play Banjo-Kazooie for several hours on end, I eventually forget about the polygons.

Still, the "graphics don't matter" argument, and by extension the "resolution doesn't matter" argument, is hyperbolic at best. They might not matter to a person, but there's a reason each console generation has improved in graphical power and a reason why consumers purchase a new console at launch. In fact, the gradual climb toward the peak of photorealism has served to lengthen the duration of each console generation, since the same leap in graphics in between each generation become that much harder to achieve. It can also be argued that texture quality and anti-aliasing are far better measures of graphical quality, but that depends in part on the ability of the developer's art team.


Take the Xbox One. I don't believe for a second that anyone who owns it does so for its library, its Kinect features, its apps catalog, or its fancy UI interface. Surely a part of the interest is about grabbing that hot, shiny toy that you can brag about with your friends, but even that materialistic boon can only be supported if the consoles makes games look better in the first place, and resolution is a part of that. Otherwise, consumers should no doubt be purchasing the Xbox 360 instead, given its price, library, features, and userbase. The Xbox 360 (and the PS3) still has a few years left in its tank, enough that consumers can stall and wait for a better deal for the Xbox One.

It's better to say that "resolution matters at least a bit." I don't believe anyone deciding between the Xbox One and PS4 is going to rely solely on resolution to guide a purchase and not consider the games, price, overall specs, accessories, online services, etc. Resolution is in part a result of the hardware's power, but that's not important if it doesn't have the games to show itself off. 

Debates about resolution will ultimately give the slight edge to the PS4 (as it is with Sony consoles in general), which means that it's a talking point that will be repeated often, if not slightly exaggerated, since the comparison between PS4 and Xbox One is just that close.

That said, I have the privilege of owning both consoles, so pixel-counting doesn't matter as much to me as game design. But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter to the majority of console owners, who tend to stick with one console. And if 4K-resolution TVs are any indication, we've still got plenty of room to grow when it comes to resolution in the next-next-generation and we can talk about how the PlayStation 5's 1440p is so much better than the Xbox Two.
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