Everything You Need to Know About 4K Gaming. What is 4k gaming

It all depends to some extent on the types of games you want to play and the frame rates and levels of detail at which you expect these games to work – indie games are easily played in 4K on much weaker hardware.

What’s 4K? And does it matter for video games?

You may not realize it yet, but 4K resolution is here.

The TV industry may have failed in its drive to impose 3D on consumers, but 4K resolution will not disappear. Coupled with improved display technologies such as high dynamic range (HDR) video, 4K is the best reason to upgrade to a new TV since the previous resolution jump from 720p to 1080p at the end of the first decade of this century.

Of course, the most important factor is the price, and that’s where we finally hit the tipping point. Most high-end TVs these days are 4K displays and are no longer significantly more expensive than 1080p TVs of the same size. But if you are thinking of purchasing a 4K TV, you may be wondering what is so special about 4K. After all, a 4K TV can’t do much for your living room that your existing 1080p setup can’t.

Video games can help spark the 4K future. There have been rumors in the past few months that both Sony and Microsoft are introducing new 4K-capable versions of their current-generation consoles. It’s unclear at this point if these enhanced systems will support native 4K games, but will reportedly at least upscale existing games to 4K and play 4K Blu-ray.

But what exactly is 4K? Why is it such a big deal – is it even a big deal? What does this mean for games? We’re here to answer these questions and more.

Max and Furiosa aim guns from a truck in Mad Max: Fury Road

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

What is 4K resolution?

The size of an image is referred to as its resolution, and is expressed in pixels. As with a printed photograph as, say, a “four by six” image, resolution is usually given in width times height. The PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One can display video at 1920×1080 pixels, or “1080p” for short, while most games in the previous generation of consoles ran around 1280×720 or “720p”. (“P” stands for “progressive” which is short for “progressive scan”, a technique in which the display draws each line of a single frame sequentially from top to bottom within one refresh cycle.)

The term “4K” can be a bit confusing as the way it is most commonly used is technically confusing. For starters, you can visualize a 4K image as being about 4,000 pixels wide and about 2,000 pixels high. In the movie industry, 4K refers to an image size of 4096 pixels by 2160 pixels, which is exactly twice the width and height of the 2K movie standard; is wider than the normal 16: 9 aspect ratio.

the “2160p” doesn’t quite slide off the tongue

In the television world, 4K video is called “ultra high definition”, which is based on the terminology of 720p (“high definition”) and 1080p (“full high definition”). It seems the video industry has decided to call it “4K ultra HD” – or just “4K” for short because the full name is a bite. The width and height of an Ultra HD image are exactly twice that of a 1080p image, so the 4K Ultra HD video resolution is 3840 by 2160 pixels. (Under the existing naming convention, you’d expect people to call it “2160p”, but that’s not entirely understandable.)

To easily understand the increase in resolution from HD to ultra HD, let’s count. A 720p image contains 921,600 pixels and a 1080p image contains 2,073,600 pixels – 2.25 times as many. With a huge number of 8,294,400 pixels, a 4K image is four times the size of a 1080p image and nine times the size of a 720p image. (Note that in the illustration below, the 1080p rectangle occupies a quarter of the full 4K image.)

It’s worth noting that even with the huge pixel jump from 1080p to 4K most people find it hard to tell them apart in direct comparison. It comes down to a typical American living room and the limits of human visual acuity.

“If you go to higher resolutions like 4K or 8K, there’s an obvious difference to 720p, but the difference is best appreciated when you’re sitting close to the screen and the TV is more than 55 inches,” said Dr. Barry Sandrew, an expert in digital imaging who is the founder, chief technology officer and creative director of Legend3D, a well-known stereoscopic 3D and visual effects company.

In the average American living room, people sit about three meters from the TV. According to Chris Heinonen, a reviewer for Reference Home Theater and The Wirecutter, at this distance from a 50-inch TV, it is very unlikely that someone with a 20/20 vision will be able to distinguish between 1080p and 4K resolution. Heinonen has put together a calculator indicating that you don’t need to sit more than 6.5 feet from a 50-inch TV to be able to see the benefits of 4K over 1080p.

If you really have some money to spend, you might as well go all out and get the biggest display you can find. Introducing the Philips 4065UC 4K monitor for your consideration:

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In addition to all this confusion (which we hope to address below) you also have the refresh rate: 4K at 30fps is not the same as 4K at 60fps, although both may claim to be “4K” in any promotional material which you are reading right now. Whether you’re buying a console or a TV, you need to read the fine print as much as possible of these specifications: resolution, HDR, color gamut, and frame rate.

Whether you’re talking about 4K, HDR or UHD, for a truly native experience you need the content itself, the playback device, the display device, and even the entire cable to support the same standards. Skip any of these fours and instead you’ll get a blurry UHD approximation where a lot of confusion arises.

4K on the Xbox One S

The Xbox One S was the first of the large consoles to get UHD support when it was introduced last year, but that UHD support is only meant for streaming video (think Netflix) and discs played in the built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player. All Xbox One games can run at 4K resolution, but some clever scaling happens behind the scenes – an example of the approximations we talked about above.

These are not 4K games that are displayed in 4K resolution – they are 1080p games that are scaled up to 4K size, albeit with the help of some very intelligent algorithms. Some games also see slight spikes in frame rates, sometimes up to 60 frames per second. In all accounts, the upscaling to 4K in games is impressive on the Xbox One S, which might give you a break if you’re thinking of dropping some cash on the newer X model.

Game developers have no way of adding any additional code or resources to 4K upscaling on the Xbox One S, but they can add HDR support as the Xbox One S also has HDR capabilities (HDR10 to be exact). While future games will likely include this, from what we can tell you right now, the list of HDR-enabled games is not that long at the moment. Although some big titles like Gears of War 4 have been updated.

If you have a UHD TV, the Xbox One S does a fantastic job of making your standard Xbox One games look better on the big screen, especially if those games have been patched with an added HDR goodness – although it’s worth reiterating that this isn’t true 4K gaming.

4K Support: Yes for streaming and UHD Blu-ray. Not for games. They are just scaled up.

HDR Support: Yes, for selected games and streaming applications.

UHD Support: Yes, Ultra HD Blu-Ray media.

Monitors running at 4K resolution have four times the number of pixels than similar-sized 1080p monitors. This means that you will not only experience excellent picture quality and picture clarity, but also a ton more on your desk.

What does a 4K monitor do?

The main purpose of a 4K monitor is that it has a much higher resolution than 1080p, usually twice its horizontal and vertical pixels, so it offers four times the number of pixels.

This leads to a sharper image, especially up close, and can help bring out finer image details for a more realistic picture, whether you are watching photos, watching a TV show or movie, or playing a game.

However, increasing the resolution has diminishing returns. While it cannot be denied that 4K looks prettier than more traditional HD resolutions like 1080p, the differences between them aren’t quite as pronounced as when switching from SD to HD.

You can see more details up close with 4K, but this allows you to enjoy crisp images on larger displays.

This is also where you will see the greatest benefits of this resolution. 4K on a laptop’s 15-inch display is largely wasted, but once you cross the 27-inch 1080p can look a bit strained, which is where higher resolutions like 1440p, and in this case 4K, really come into play.

Promotional image of the ASUS CG32UQ HDR game console with a blue-green glow behind it

What do you need to watch movies on a 4K monitor?

Another thing to consider when purchasing a 4K monitor is whether your PC is powerful enough to run it.

If you just want to run Windows apps or watch 4K movies, you don’t need anything too powerful. If your GPU is at least the last five years and you have a reasonable mid-range CPU and memory, you shouldn’t have a hard time using a 4K monitor.

However, you need to make sure that the 4K monitor is connected to the computer with a cable and connector that supports 4K resolution.

DVI-D and VGA aren’t good because they just don’t have the bandwidth for such a connection.

HDMI isn’t a bad choice, but the oldest one to use are HDMI 1.3 or 1.4, which support 4K at 30Hz at most, but it’s a less than ideal viewing experience.

HDMI 2.0, however, can handle 4K @ 60Hz without any problems, resulting in a much smoother picture. However, for everything else, you’ll need HDMI 2.1.

DisplayPort is arguably the best connector standard to use in 4K, and even older DisplayPort 1.2 connections are capable of handling 4K at frequencies up to 75Hz. DisplayPort 1.4 can go as high as 120Hz at 4K resolution, with newer standards going far beyond if required – though they are especially rare.

USB-C is also an option, especially if you’re leaving your laptop, although it has to be one of the faster versions of that connection to get the most out of 4K.

Higher resolution does not directly affect CPU and memory processing. There are still the same number of items / objects in a given frame. More pixels is simply more GPU load, not more CPU usage.

4K Capable Hardware

Here are some of our types of 4K-capable hardware:

Monitors For 4K Gaming

For screens, it is more profitable to get a bigger screen to get the most out of UHD.

As of this writing, UHD monitors are available in various sizes from 24 ″ to 40 ″. Each size provides a slightly different viewing experience as the pixel density varies depending on the screen size.

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