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Why Xbox Series X and PS5 may not live up to the 'next-gen' graphics promise, at least initially

Unreal Engine 5
Unreal Engine 5 (Image credit: Epic Games)

It's no secret that both Microsoft and Sony have been somewhat boasting about how the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (PS5) will offer unparalleled performance and reach frame rates of 120. However, this week was somewhat of a rude awakening for both, because it seems like 30 frames per second (FPS) is still going to be a part of the next-generation experience.

Let's start off with the Xbox Series X. A few days ago, the General Manager of Xbox Games Marketing at Microsoft, Aaron Greenberg, appeared to claim that 60 FPS would be the "standard output" for the machine. However, the next day, Ubisoft revealed that Assassin's Creed Valhalla would run at "at least 30 FPS" on Xbox Series X. The company wasn't able to confirm a higher frame rate. After that, Greenberg mentioned that "60 FPS is not a mandate." Developers can make games that are still 30 FPS.

Scorn Teaser Trailer

Source: Ebb Software (Image credit: Source: Ebb Software)

This effectively means that we should expect 30 FPS games on Xbox Series X, at least initially. While here's hoping that the team at Ubisoft will be able to push the console to native 4K resolution and 60 FPS, there's no guarantee. We'll have to wait until Holiday 2020 – or when the company wants to talk about the visual quality before then – to get a concrete answer.

Now let's talk about the PS5. Recently, Epic Games announced that Unreal Engine 5 would support Xbox Series X and Sony's machine. The company even gave us a demo of some stunning footage. It looks incredible with great textures and lighting, but that's where the great news ends. The PS5 footage was rendering at mostly 1440p and 30 FPS, according to Digital Foundry. It didn't even feature ray-tracing, which is touted as a next-generational feature for providing more dynamic lighting and reflections.

Scarlet Nexus

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

It takes a while to get engines properly optimized for consoles, but if you remember the discussion around the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, developers were saying they hit 4K within days because they were so easy to code for. Yet, as we leap into the next-generation, Ubisoft is only confirming 30 FPS for a major game, and Epic Games is showcasing a 1440p 30 FPS Tomb Raider-style tech demo. Of course, these are only limited samples, but it doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of systems gunning to launch relatively soon in the latter half of 2020.

Hopefully, towards the end of 2021, we'll see developers utilize both consoles to the best of their abilities. It usually takes a year from the time they're readily available to hit that mark, and we haven't really seen real in-game footage that showcases the hardware as of writing. Microsoft's demonstrations from May's Inside Xbox were heavily cut, and could realistically not be representative of the end product.

Unreal Engine 5

Source: Epic Games (Image credit: Source: Epic Games)

There are a lot of reasons to consider these next-generation consoles. The work Microsoft is doing to reduce loading times with Xbox Velocity Architecture is incredibly impressive, as is Sony's dedication to its NVME SSD, 3D audio, and some of the features promised in its next controller. However, if you're looking at the next Xbox or PlayStation to blow your mind with a staggering leap in visuals, it's clear that's not likely to happen on launch day.

There will likely be some improvements for sure, especially when it comes to lighting, but that may not be enough for everyone to feel like they're getting their money's worth. And if you're one of those people, you would be forgiven for thinking there might not be an immediate benefit to picking up a new console on launch day this time.

Xbox Series X/S

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Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.

26 Comments
  • Kinda expected.... No?
  • If they mainly focus on framerate, 60 fps at 1440p should be very much within reach. If I were a developer, this would be the starting point. There's always the debate of framerate vs. resolution, but having tried both, I think it's safe to say that beyond 1440p, most players will take 60 fps first before 4k visuals. The consoles are definitely significantly better due to the Zen processors, so we should expect truly improved performance. The games simply aren't ready yet, as most developers are hardly done with the current gen, let alone starting off with next gen.
  • But who is seriously caring about 1440/60 in 2020/2021? The big deal with these consoles is supposed to be their value of cutting-edge hardware at $500. If that purchase is getting you 1440/60, it doesn't seem like you're paying for much in the way of a generational leap. If you have to wait 1-2 years to get the platform to reach quality above an $800 PC, then the hype of beating PC in value is a letdown. I can probably manage 1440/60 on the next Forza on my XB1X and better than that on my PC. I have no desire to upgrade for 1440/60. I have a PC with allegedly lesser hardware that can do that and more.
  • Consistent 1440/60fps across ALL games is actually pretty good for $500. Stronger devs will no doubt push 4k/60fps (343, The Coalition, Ninja Theory etc.), but if the minimum baseline with least effort from the developers is 1440p/60fps, I'd say that's money well spent for $500.
  • I got my 3 year xbox live sub converted to xbox game pass ultimate for $1 a few months ago. I hope to get the Series X day one and all the first party games will be on Game pass. I'm expecting Forza and Halo for the Win!
  • Games like Forza Motorsport 7 already look incredible on Xbox One X at native 4K60. I'm still really excited to see how it's successor looks on Series X. How can it *not* be a huge step up?
  • If they slap raytracing and even let me play in FHD I'll be fine
  • Interesting...we were given all of this "buy the hype" stuff from this site and others when the consoles were announced. We were told how PC gaming was going to be behind the new tech because of 4K/60+ FPS gaming and ray tracing. We are always told of the console optimizations and such. Now, we have a limited tech demo at 1440p/30 FPS? Games talked up as 30+ FPS? We get told to temper expectations from the same people who fueled the hype. 30 FPS from Assassin's Creed on Zen2 and RDNA2 is just weak. You'll see RDNA1 and Turing put out better than that with year- and two-year-old hardware that has the supposed platform bloat of PC. So, how long before the $500, high-end PC killers to reach parity with PC? Honestly, I think first-party stuff will look and perform better. UE5 looking sluggish isn't a big deal, IMO. The games coming aren't built on that new engine that will have a lot of improvements before content starts to come out on the engine. I think it is fully reasonable to expect 4K/60 from stuff like Forza and Halo because those titles have had years of development on engines built for these platforms. This article seems like the overreaction to the overreaction. AC titles generally don't represent anywhere near the pinnacle of top-tier dev work, so I think we will see plenty of titles that produce better performance that Valhalla.
  • The UE5 tech demo should be taken as a demo of the engine for developers, not a demonstration of what the consoles are capable of. Sony shot themselves in the foot by trying to use such underwhelming footage as a marketing stunt.
  • PC gaming is behind these new consoles. Digital Foundry did a deep dive on Gears 5 running on Series X. Its benchmark matched a PC with a RTX 2080TI. And that was with a 2 week old build Gears 5 with 0 optimization done for taking advantage of Series X. It was simply a straight Ultra port of the PC version. And Gears 5 is one of the best optimized PC games out there. Even specifically optimized for RTX cards as well. It's more than likely Ubisoft has done next to no optimization for Creed on Series X. And just upped the resolution and added effects.
  • It was comparable to the standard rtx2080 (not ti). But yes, if further optimized, possibly could go up against a super or ti.
  • Digital Foundry state it was a 2080TI. https://youtu.be/oNZibJazWTo
  • "This effectively means that we should expect 30 FPS games on Xbox Series X, at least initially." No, it doesn't mean that at all. All you can extrapolate from that is that Ubisoft won't be making Valhalla run at 60fps. Nothing more. The console is obviously capable of 60fps.
  • I'm rocking a day one, Xbox One. I started this gen with a 1080p TV, I'm now at 4k. The consoles will be a hell of a leap for me. My device stutters even on low rent games. Whatever X is, I'll be glad of the difference.
  • I expect at least the exclusives to show how good the graphics can be, at least in the Sony side since6they don't have to worry about current gen consoles. Rise and Killzone shadow fall were launch games that still look good to this day
  • What I learned with the EU5 demo is that 4K 60fps won't be a standard. 1440p 60fps might not even be the standard if we want that level of fidelity. What I also learned is that RT isn't everything, RT reflections are still cool but lumen is extremely close to RT Global illumination and doesn't make sense to use the much heavier RT variant.
  • Lumen is nothing like Ray Tracing. Digital Foundry did a great video demonstrating true Path Ray Tracing. And Lumen doesn't come close. Almost everything in this video is unattainable using Lumen. It's just impossible. Games with true Path Tracing have an atmosphere level not remotely possible with dynamic lighting. https://youtu.be/s_eeWr622Ss
  • Ray tracing in Minecraft is not a good example of realistic lighting though, I mean they have mossy stone textures reflecting light as though it's metal. It looks pretty, but it's entirely inaccurate. I still think Control is the best example we currently have of ray traced lighting. That being said, until we see more of Lumen, I would have to agree with you. until we actually see how it reacts with a variety of different surfaces, metal, stone, glass, etc that is. Given that none of that was shown and we got a fairly generic rocky environment I suspect that Lumen isn't up to snuff compared to Ray Tracing. However it is still going to be used, I can pretty safely assume that Lumen will be used for your general lighting, RT for flashy effects (or on surfaces where it matters), otherwise they're just wasting processing power for nothing.
  • Its the best measure. A few surfaces still need to be recorded. But for the purpose of the demo, many many things in full path Ray Tracing is just impossible without it. From the lense hole effect, to the way light bounces and works. It seems more that Epic have tried to make Dynamic lighting as good as they can for those titles and hardware not capable of Full path Ray Tracing. Dynamic lighting takes longer to implement and yet doesn't get real world lighting correct. It has to be hand crafted into the environment piece by piece. Whereas Full path Ray Tracing is completely maths driven. The developer simply needs hardware capable enough to do it. It looks as though Series X is. Control also isn't using path Ray Tracing. It only uses Ray traced reflections and shadows. The lighting in Control is dynamic. Same as Battlefield 5 on PC. Only reflections are Ray traced. Lighting isn't.
  • Control has the option to turn on ray tracing for lighting, it's not just reflections and shadows, obviously it's a toggle to help with systems that may not be capable of the full brunt of ray traced lighting. No idea about BF5, that game never interested me but you are probably right. "It seems more that Epic have tried to make Dynamic lighting as good as they can for those titles and hardware not capable of Full path Ray Tracing." ^Exactly. Because they are trying to sell their engine, not advertise to gamers. They want developers from Phones, to PC and everything in between to use UE5 so of course they are going to show off the technique that is applicable to all systems. It would be incredibly stupid of them to have ray tracing in that demonstration. But yeah, I still think a LOT of games on Series X and PS5 (and PC) will use a combination of Lumen and Ray Traced.
  • Well, i personnally find unacceptable to have 30 fps games with the upcoming consoles. The developpers should have learn to scale games thanks to the mid gen upgrade which are supposed to play games with higher graphical settings. Assuming the next gen are way more powerful than mid gen upgrades then games should scale without or with minimal efforts. As such cross gen should all run at 4K/60 fps. Games exclusive to next gen should even be able to run at up to 120 fps. Thus either developpers such Ubisoft are lazy or the consoles are way less powerful than hyped. I am especially worried about the PS5. Despites a 6 months collaboration between Sony and Epic games, they were unable to achieve a 4k/60 fps demo ? Either the PS5 is very hard to develop for or is underpowered. In all case the Best option is to way and see.
  • So on one hand inside xbox has a show full of games promising 1440p and up with 60 fps. The you have windows central saying 2 examples out of 14 means the consoles wont live up to the promise. This wont age well.
  • This is not an error strategic communication, then ?
  • The game is good, we see that later.
  • MS can't force developers to do anything. Remember when Nintendo did this with the famous Seal of approval? Didn't bode well for them after Snes. MS can only speak for First party. Look at Gears 5 as an example. Not only one of the best visual games this Gen. But it's at 60fps. 3rd party devs can't spend that much time on each version of the game. So the coding and optimization per console is lacking compared to first party. Expect Halo Infinite to be 60fps and native 4K on Series X. Just wait and see.
  • In 2 years, this won't even be a conversation. They'll have got in their stride and wow is.