Can Consoles Run 4K?

So, you just got a new console, or you want to get one. Maybe, you are just curious as to what a console can and cannot do. The answer might surprise you. As cheap as consoles are, they pack a pretty big punch. The majority of limitations that consoles have, are put in place by the manufacturer.

Yes, consoles can run 4k, even if it is just upscaled checkerboarding. Consoles can also run games at 60fps. And consoles can also run 4K at 60FPS, but all of this is up to the developers.

Something that a lot of people do not understand, and I do not blame them, is that every component used in a console is tweaked and optimized to a point where you can get more out of those components in a console, as opposed to a PC.

A console is basically just PC components that have been modified to work in a certain way, depending on the console manufacturer. The big difference between the components in a PC and console is that a console is built to run games, whereas a PC is built to do a lot more.

Because of this, every component in a console can be tweaked to get the best performance, specifically for games. Too many people don’t consider this when comparing specs.

Can consoles run 4K?

The simple answer is, YES, they can. But here at NeverPressPause, we don’t like “simple answers.” We like answering questions in a way that you don’t have to look anywhere else.

Sony and Microsoft launched their mid-cycle consoles called the PS4 PRO and the Xbox One X in September 2016 and November 2017 respectively.

These two consoles introduced 4K gaming on consoles for the first time. They did this by upgrading the specs of the original consoles and allowed developers to upscale their games. Let us take a quick look at the specs of both consoles.

PS4 PRO and Xbox One X specs

ComponentPS4 PROXbox One X
CPUAMD Jaguar 8 core 2.1GHz CPUCustom 8 core AMD 2.3GHz CPU
GPU4.2 T/flop AMD Polaris graphics6 T/flop AMD graphics
Memory8GB GDDR512GB DDR5

If that all looks a bit technical, don’t worry. I will give a quick explanation of what all of that means.

  • The CPU is the processor and The GHz stands for how fast it runs.
  • The GPU is the graphics card
  • The Memory is the RAM (Random Access Memory)

True 4K?

Some games, particularly 1st party titles, do manage to hit native 4k, but the majority of console games achieve 4K by upscaling or by using “checkerboard rendering.” Even though the two consoles have a fair bit of power, running games at native 4K is very resource-intensive.

Buying a PC that can run native 4K with stable framerates can cost upwards of $1000. So, how can we expect a console that costs less than half the price to do it? Well, developers are good at what they do and have learned how to implement checkerboard rendering and upscaling.

Checkerboard rendering and upscaling

This type of rendering allows developers to, basically, upscale graphics to 4K. Please note that Checkerboarding is not the same as upscaling. There is actually a very big difference between the two, and if you have a keen eye for things like image quality, you should be able to notice the difference.

When you render something at a higher resolution, you increase the number of pixels. If you do not have data for those pixels, you need to fill in the data. Upscaling, in laymen terms, does this by guessing what it needs to fill pixels. Upscaling uses maths and estimations gathered from known sets of data to fill in what it needs to when there is no data. This often leads to the quality of images being lower quality than if they were just rendered in native 4K.

Checkerboard rendering uses a different technique. It combines two images from two frames to fill in the gaps that are left empty when going from one resolution to a higher one. This ensures a better quality image than what traditional upscaling can produce

You might hear people referring to the two as being the same thing, but now that you know the difference, so don’t be shy to correct your friends on the subject. Referring to upscaling as the same as checkerboarding is very disingenuous as it implies that checkerboarding has the same low image quality as upscaling, which is not the case.

Knowing this, it becomes easier to understand why developers use certain techniques, and with Checkerboard rendering, it is about enhancing the work that a GPU puts out and not about upgrading the GPU itself. If not for checkerboarding, most games won’t be able to hit 4K without suffering from unstable framerates.

Can you tell the difference between native 4K and Checkeboarding/upscaling?

Anyone with a keen eye can tell the difference between native 4K and upscaling. When it comes to checkerboarding, most people cannot tell the difference. You need to have a very keen eye and experience in what to look out for.

PS5 and Xbox Series X

These two consoles are the latest from the two gaming console manufacturers, and they offer the most significant jump in performance we have seen in a new generation of consoles since the PS2. Both are set to provide better graphical fidelity, better framerates, and both have a keen focus on 4K.

The question is, will more developers be able to render their games in native 4K, or will they still rely on Checkerboarding? Let’s have a quick look at the important specs of both machines.

PS5 and Series X specs

ComponentPS5Series X
CPUAMD 8 core zen 2 3.5GHzCustom AMD zen 2 8 core 3.8GHz 
GPUAMD 10.23T/flop GPU at 2.23GHzAMD RDNA 2, 12 T/flop at 1.825GHz
Memory16GB GDDR616GB GDDR6

As you can see, the jump in performance from the previous generation is huge, so we can expect the PS5 and Series X to do everything better. Hopefully, this means that, with the extra power, developers will be able to take advantage of it and deliver more games that run at native 4K.

4K at 60FPS

This is completely up to developers. They have to choose between graphics and framerates—the better the graphics, the lower the framerate. With the extra power in the new consoles, developers can realize their dreams with fewer limitations, so we can be sure that some games will run at 4K 60FPS.

Final thoughts

4K might seem like a gimmick to some, especially since most console games do not render in native 4K, but as technology evolves, 4K will become the new “normal,,” and I am looking forward to that.

It is not often that we get new performance leaps in new consoles, and we only get new graphics cards every two or three years. We can count on Game developers to create new techniques to get the most out of the hardware we have.

I hope you walk away from this article not only having your question answered, but also with all the information that you need or want. You now know the difference between upscaling and checkerboarding and I implore you to share this article with anyone who refers to the two as being the same thing.

David Sacks

I have worked in the IT industry since 2011 and have been an avid gamer my whole life. My first consoles were the sega genesis and the Nintendo SNES. I play both console and PC games, I love both. I decided to become combine my passion for gaming with my passion for writing.

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