Nobody wants to rain on anyone else’s parade, but the industry is still in places obsessed with the idea that the next generation of console gaming rivals, or in some cases, surpasses the graphical fidelity of PC’s.
This was a hot topic at Gamescom 2013, with many indie developers bringing up the topic with us. Many voiced annoyance at the media getting caught up in the hype, with some guys claiming the PS4 and One will turnover graphics comparable to that of a low-mid range current gen PC.
Nvidia have voiced their own opinions, stating that quite logically, 200 watts of power isn’t going to 1000 watts of PC performance. Whilst it’s true that most med-high spec PC’s are running between 600-1000, many of them around the 600 range, that’s still 3x the raw power of the next generation of consoles.
Nvidia’s senior Vice President of Content and Technology, Tony Tamasi, had this to say:
“It’s no longer possible for a console to be a better or more capable graphics platform than the PC.
“I’ll tell you why. In the past, certainly with the first PlayStation and PS2, in that era there weren’t really good graphics on the PC. Around the time of the PS2 is when 3D really started coming to the PC, but before that time 3D was the domain of Silicon Graphics and other 3D workstations. Sony, SEGA or Nintendo could invest in bringing 3D graphics to a consumer platform. In fact, the PS2 was faster than a PC.
Sony and Microsoft simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money.
“By the time of the Xbox 360 and PS3, the consoles were on par with the PC. If you look inside those boxes, they’re both powered by graphics technology by AMD or NVIDIA, because by that time all the graphics innovation was being done by PC graphics companies.
“NVIDIA spends 1.5 billion US dollars per year on research and development in graphics, every year, and in the course of a console’s lifecycle we’ll spend over 10 billion dollars into graphics research. Sony and Microsoft simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money. They just don’t have the investment capacity to match the PC guys; we can do it thanks to economy of scale, as we sell hundreds of millions of chips, year after year.”
Tamasi stated that the second reason was power. You want to go faster – you need more wattage.
“If you want to go faster, you need a more efficient design or a bigger power supply. The laws of physics dictate that the amount of performance you’re going to get from graphics is a function of the efficiency of the architecture, and how much power budget you’re willing to give it.
“The most efficient architectures are from Nvidia and AMD, and you’re not going to get anything that is significantly more power efficient in a console, as it’s using the same core technology. Yet the consoles have power budgets of only 200 or 300 Watts, so they can put them in the living room, using small fans for cooling, yet run quietly and cool. And that’s always going to be less capable than a PC, where we spend 250W just on the GPU. There’s no way a 200W Xbox is going to be beat a 1000W PC.”
Tamasi concluded by summarizing the key point: Nvidia and AMD are the graphical innovators, that’s where the money goes. Microsoft and Sony aren’t.
“The technology that we’re applying to PC graphics is literally state of the art, at the limits of semiconductor technology. That’s why I don’t think it’s possible any more to have a console that can outperform the PC.”
Source: PC Power Play
Whilst it’s true that the PC will turnover much better graphics, games produced for consoles only often have much grander production values. This means that many console games appear more polished, with fantastic, numerous cut-scene animations and more polish in other areas. A console production usually has a much higher budget than a PC exclusive production, but that doesn’t always equate to a better quality product. Metro Last Light had a very tight budget, but remains a much more visually pleasing game than something like Battlefield 3, or probably even 4.
It’s no good having photo-realistic characters if they’re animated poorly, with low quality voice work (if applicable), surrounded by a synthesized soundtrack. Luckily for us, things like procedural animation is getting cheap enough for the smallest of developers to use – but it’s not largely the case at that stage yet.
My point is that while PC developers can create beautiful graphics with relative ease, the money that goes into a console production can compensate in other ways for lesser graphical fidelity – usually in production values, animations, motion capping, etc,. Graphics alone don’t make a game great.
Console and PC gaming are inherently different experiences, and they should probably remain different experiences. True PC style games are phenomenal, and so are true console-only productions. They are so because they’re built for their respective systems – honed and tuned by professionals.