It sounds like Thief will run at a slightly lower resolution on the Xbox One than the PlayStation 4: 900p for the former, 1080p for the latter, and both versions at 30 frames per second.
Square Enix confirmed as much to Eurogamer, though the game’s director Nicolas Cantin claims “You really need good eyes to see the difference,” and says the Xbox One version is “as good as the PS4 version.”
Conventional we’re-above-all-this-resolution-business wisdom holds that pixel count is irrelevant, or at least subordinate — and way way down the ladder, rung-wise — to game design and/or gameplay. I’m in that camp, mostly, I just like my device’s output to line up with my display’s output.
We soldiered through the Wii’s tenure as a sub-HD device when HD flat panels blossomed in living rooms a little more than half a decade ago. High definition LCDs start at 720p, or 1280 by 720 pixels, but the Wii outputs at 480p, or 640 by 480 pixels. Plug a lower-resolution device into a fixed higher-resolution display — a display that lacks the ability to resolution-shift like an older CRT, and you get interpolation, otherwise known as pixel stretching, which culminates in a picture that looks slightly out of focus.
Upscaling helps, but only so much. Upscale a native 480p image to 720p (or 720p to 1080p) and you’ll still detect blurring. Pixels are being stretched to accommodate that higher resolution no matter what you do, which has variably noticeable side effects: visual artifacts (especially around edges), relative in severity to the quality of the scaler and the degree of scaling taking place. 900p to 1080p is a small leap, which, among other things, is why Ryse looks so fantastic on 1080p displays regardless of its upscaled, native 900p resolution. 480p to 1080p is more problematic, and if you poke around on the interwebs, you’ll find endless videophile threads in which Wii owners ask for purchase advice given the dearth of 480p-native technology.
For the record, I have no trouble with lower-resolution games if the image output is nearer 1-to-1. I’d be as happy playing Ultima VI: The False Prophet or Wing Commander today on a resolution-appropriate display as I was on whatever 256-color 320 by 200 pixel (VGA) resolution CRT I had plugged into my old CompuAdd 386sx 16Mhz in 1990. I don’t identify higher-res with “better.” For me, it’s just a different aesthetic.
But I do notice blurriness when the output ratios, device to display, are off and the the scalar distance is significant. It’s been a bugbear of mine since flat screens shoved CRTs out, and resolution-switching went with them. The disparity’s annoying enough in earlier 480p games that when I still had a PlayStation 2, I kept a little 20-inch CRT around, just to play stuff like Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII at native 480p. (To this day, I wish they sold high quality, native 480p LCDs.)
As for Thief, 900p to 1080p is small potatoes, scale-wise. Even with my videophile hat on, I probably wouldn’t care, because 1600 by 900 pixels on a native 1920 by 1080 screen is close enough that the visual artifacts produced by upscaling look more like softness, which can have its own advantages, taste depending. Don’t stress, in other words, and remember this is less a reflection of the Xbox One’s power than a momentary indictment of its more complex architecture and development environment, which developers are saying should smooth out down the road.
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