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Microsoft on 1080p Games

Microsoft’s Andre Vrignaud, the Director of Xbox Live Technical Strategy, wrote another piece criticizing 1080p. He consulted with a Microsoft senior software design engineer to back his argument with a technical explanation. His fundamental reasoning goes like this:

  1. 1080p is a higher resolution than 720p
  2. Higher resolution = More pixels. To be precise 1080p has 2.32 times as many pixels as 720p. (1920*1080 / 1280×720 = 2.32)
  3. Rendering more pixels per frame requires more processing resources to render
  4. More resources used rendering pixels means less resources are available for other tasks which means that there will be a loss in quality in other parts of the game.

1-3 are definitely true. 4 is a misleading half-truth:

Any game could be made to run at 1920×1080. However, it is a tradeoff. It means that you can show more detail (although you need larger textures and models to really get this benefit) but it means that you have much less time to run complex pixel shaders. Most games can’t justify running at higher than 1280×720—it would actually make them look worse because of the compromises they will have to make in other areas.

Does adding a more complex physics simulation system require compromises to the A.I system? Does using a more complex animation system require sacrifices to the number of models that can be shown on screen at any given time? In some ways they do. Any resource consuming feature competes for the same finite system resources as the other pieces of the game. It’s the job of the game developer to decide how to best utilize those resources to make the best game possible.

In some cases, 1080p may require compromises and it might not be the right decision to make. In other cases, the developer may be able to optimize their software and get 1080p resolution along with all the other graphics, effects, and functionality that they had planned on without any compromises at all. And this isn’t just for simple mah-jong type games either. We are seeing previews of several graphically and resource intense 360/PS3 cross platform titles that support 1080p only on the PS3 without any sacrifices at all.

Also, if Mr. Vrignaud claims were true and higher resolutions really do impose such substantial losses in quality, why even use 720p? Why not stick with lower resolutions and get even better image quality?

Yes, even Resistance has fallen off the bandwagon and admitted they can’t hit 1080i/p as previously claimed.

This is false. I have never seen Sony or Insomniac claim 1080x for Resistance anywhere.

55.5%: that’s how much less time you have to spend on each pixel when rendering 1920×1080 compared to 1280×720—the point being that at higher resolutions you have more pixels, but they necessarily can’t look as good

Of course, higher resolutions require more resources, but his numbers stem from the invalid assumption that if you double the number of pixels, you have half the amount of time available to process them. (55% ~= 1 – 1/2.25) There are a lot of processing tasks that are not affected by display resolution including game logic, physics, AI, processing, model, and many polygon calculations.

How about some benchmark data to back up my claim? This data was obtained from AnandTech’s benchmark of the PC game F.E.A.R at many different resolutions on many different video cards. If rendering 2.25x as many pixels resulted in 55% less time available to render each pixel, we would expect that doubling the quantity of pixels per frame would halve the FPS and that the pixel-per-second output rate of the hardware would be a roughly constant number. In that case, the plot below would have horizontal lines for each video card. Instead, we see a pronounced effect that while FPS clearly drops at higher resolutions, the overall pixel per second output rate increases with resolution.

Pixels per Second

Frankly, I was particularly curious about why Sony has continued harping on 1080p as being “TrueHD”

Well, one good reason that Sony has been “harping” on 1080p is that Microsoft guys such as this one have caused quite a stir in making the false claims that it couldn’t be done and that there would be no 1080x titles this year.

F.E.A.R Benchmarks
Clarifying Thoughts on High Definition Game Rendering