Why next-gen consoles won't run games at 4K

Just because some say they can, doesn't mean they should. Based on the latest graphics hardware no one should expect great 4K gaming in this next generation of consoles.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
2 min read

Back in March, Microsoft's CVP of Marketing and Strategy Yusuf Mehdi told Forbes that the Xbox One would support 4K gaming, saying that there was "no hardware restriction there at all".

However, some testing from AnandTech suggests that while that statement might be technically accurate, whether it's playable or not might be a different matter.

At Computex, AnnadTech's Ian Cutress got his hands on a 4K monitor and decided to run some gaming benchmarks and see what happened.

Testing across Sleeping Dogs and Metro 2033, it took four of Nvidia's GTX Titan graphics cards to hit around 60fps when outputting the game at 3840x2160 on max settings.

Dirt 3, luckily, was a little more forgiving. It took just one Titan to hit a similar frame rate.

Two things are important to note here. One is that currently, a GTX Titan 6GB will run you to around AU$1200 to buy. It's a very expensive, top-of-the-line GPU.

The second is that the Xbox One and the PS4 don't come close to that sort of graphics power.

To a certain degree, this is very much a case of comparing oranges and apples. There's a lot more going on under the hood of either of these consoles than just what the equivalent GPU is — a great deal. Pitting them against a PC test rig just isn't a fair real-world comparison.

But if we look at just raw graphic power based on FLOPS (floating-point operations per second) we see some pretty big differences. The Xbox One is estimated to have a peak power of 1.23 teraflops. The PS4 has 1.84.

Nvidia stated that the Titan has a peak output of 4.5 teraflops. And it still takes four of them to render a game playable in 4K.

And honestly, that's fine for PC gaming. No one really wants to play 4K games just yet, and the costs need to come down on the components and the monitors before they do. When that happens, PC gamers will upgrade, like they always do.

But if next-generation consoles have the same shelf life as their predecessors, then Sony and Microsoft want us to still be playing them in five to eight years, when we'll be well into a 4K gaming world with the consoles left behind.