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Microsoft touts Xbox Scorpio’s ‘native, true 4K’ over PS4 Pro’s 4K ‘caveats’

Throwing down the gauntlet

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Project Scorpio motherboard screencap
The 4K-capable hardware inside Microsoft’s Project Scorpio.
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

With the PlayStation 4 Pro, Sony is beating Microsoft to market when it comes to a mid-cycle console upgrade to deliver 4K gaming, but Microsoft’s position is that Project Scorpio’s undeniable power advantage will make a difference to discerning gamers when the console arrives next year.

The PS4 Pro, which launches Nov. 10 for $399, will be unable to run the vast majority of PS4 games in native 4K resolution. (So far, only one has been confirmed: The Elder Scrolls Online, a massively multiplayer title that is not known for being graphically intensive.) Instead, most developers we’ve spoken with are planning to render at a resolution north of 1080p — the standard for games on the current PS4 — and then use a technique such as "checkerboard rendering" to essentially upscale the image to 4K.

When Microsoft announced Project Scorpio at E3 2016, the company said the console’s graphics unit would have 6 teraflops of computing power. That means it will be approximately 43 percent more powerful than the PS4 Pro, whose GPU is clocked at 4.2 teraflops — which is "not enough to do true 4K," said Microsoft’s Albert Penello in a recent interview with Eurogamer.

Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, acknowledged that until Project Scorpio launches, it will be difficult to compare the effective output of the two consoles. But in addition to touting Scorpio’s power advantage, he told Eurogamer that "there are things we haven’t said about Scorpio yet that give me a different perspective on this."

Asked about Microsoft’s seemingly renewed marketing swagger, Penello downplayed the thought that the company is adopting a more aggressive strategy. At the same time, he highlighted the weaknesses of the PS4 Pro compared to Scorpio.

"I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K," Penello said of Sony. "They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K."

Penello noted that developers will be able to use Scorpio’s extra power however they want, so native 4K isn’t an across-the-board requirement. But Shannon Loftis, general manager for publishing at Microsoft Studios, told USA Today last week that all first-party titles coming to Scorpio in the console’s launch window will do native 4K.

For more on Microsoft’s thoughts about the PS4 Pro, check out our own interview with Penello from the day Sony announced the console.

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