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July 20, 2022

Is 8K Gaming Turning a Corner? – Part 1

It’s been five years since the first mainstream PC graphics cards could drive DELL’s early 8K monitor using the DisplayPort protocol. Today, AMD, Intel, and Nvidia graphics cards can also support 8K gaming on TVs using HDMI. But debate continues about which options gamers prefer: 4K/120p, 8K at modest frame rates, or 4K upscaled to 8K in the GPU to run at higher frame rates.

So why write a piece on 8K Gaming now? Because it is a use case that many think can drive the adoption of 8K. Consequently, we want to dig a little deeper to understand current thinking in this area.

The Hype Cycle

When you google “8K Gaming”, there’s a peak of results from the weeks following the launch of the current top-of-the-range cards like the Nvidia’s 3x RTX series. However, the Linus Tech Tips team built an 8K gaming rig over five years ago here, and I’ll arbitrarily set that as our innovation trigger date.

Technology hype cycles help us realize where we are.

The Hype Cycle

We could define the peak of inflated expectations as the period about six months after the launch of the latest Nvidia 3x series, especially the 3080 RTX – so in early 2021 – when the first batch of positive articles and analyst predictions had come out. Now, in summer 2022, we are sliding down to the trough of disillusionment.  Some think we will stay at the bottom of the trough, or 8K gaming will never happen (like here, for example).

And that’s why I’d stick my neck out and – write this article now -contending that we’re reaching that inflection point at the bottom of the trough of disillusionment. The disappointing 2021 and early 2022 sales figures for 8K-capable screens are out, and we’ve almost digested the bad news. With many marketing teams focusing elsewhere, the pressure of expectations is lessening. The industry can quietly turn the corner and start climbing that long slope of 8K Gaming enlightenment. Read on to see if you agree with our premise.

In researching this piece, I spoke to Dr. Jon Peddie, President of JP Research, my hardcore gamer son, and Marek Maciejewski, Product Development Director Europe at TCL Europe.

We’ll look into why a breakthrough in 8K resolution for gaming may be imminent, but in the meantime, Jon and Marek agreed that HDR is already a – no pun intended – game-changer, as long as you can compare side-by-side.

Resolution must serve a purpose

Jon, a recognized industry expert – see his site here – told me, “I use an 8K monitor all day every day, so of course, I have gamed on it, but I don’t truly see the difference with games that are not designed in 8K. The resolution is wasted.”

My hardcore gaming son asked his communities (LoL, WoW classic, various FPS) about 8K. A similar consensus came out. If device makers push 8K, then gamers aren’t interested. But gamers are ready once the game makers design an 8K experience from the ground up.

Jon told me, “The more you can see, the more you can do”. More resolution allows for a wider horizontal pixel count, enhancing peripheral vision. Having spent millennia as hunters and, more importantly, as prey has given humans an extremely high-speed reaction to what we see in our peripheral vision. There’s a parallel to driving in the real world where widening your field of view makes you a safer driver. Jon doesn’t quantify the advantages of improved HDR and resolution, but it does get closer to suspension of disbelief, making it easier the “fall into the story”. He believes 8K game mastering will eventually improve this significantly.

Gaming categories vs genre

Jon was adamant that 8K could one day be relevant for all three categories in the gaming market – mobile, PC, and console-based. For example, as more handheld and smartphone devices have options to use external displays, these could one day be 8K displays.  And since late 2020, PC gaming rigs assembled from off-the-shelf components have been capable of outputting an 8K signal. That will also be true of next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft (or upgrades to current models).

However, the effect of resolution on a game depends more on its genre.  Jon notes that players only really care about avoiding getting shot in an AA First-Person-Shooter (FPS). Raytracing and other things to improve the aesthetics are useless for Jon in these games because there is never any time to appreciate the detail. A higher resolution is only helpful in this kind of game if it yields meaningful information. If Jon can see distant enemies sooner, then sure, 8K makes a difference, but more beautiful images do nothing for the FPS.

However, for adventure and strategy games like Myst, things are different. Players have the time to look at the environment, and more beautiful, detailed images lead to greater immersivity. Ubisoft’s Farcry 6 is a procedural game with the most extraordinary foliage where players can, for example, hide. So here you see that greater resolution can add to the gaming experience.

Jon told me a story about how far immersion can go. A few years back, he had an extended gameplay session on the FPS Doom. The following day, he walked down a long corridor to the restroom in a restaurant. Suddenly he was worried about not having any weapons on him – and no, he’s not an NRA activist.

Despite that anecdote, immersion remains critical for the best gameplay. Realism is part of it, and that, in turn, is greatly affected by resolution. This is where Jon sees 8K shine. His motto: don’t watch the video, be in it.

Currently, we’re in a chicken and egg situation. There aren’t enough 8K games to motivate players to upgrade their hardware, and there aren’t enough 8K-enabled players to create a return for developers. But he believes one of them will take the plunge soon – Sony being in an ideal situation with their vertical ecosystem. Then, the market could snowball once a game is genuinely designed to leverage 8K. Perhaps a low-hanging fruit to exploit 8K could be flight simulator types of game.

And, as of now, Jon points out, there is only one 8K monitor for sale, and it is not a gaming monitor having only a 60-Hz frame rate. But that may not be as big an issue as Jon fears as 8K TVs can easily solve the display problem and offer a more immersive experience.

In Part 2, we will look at another way gamers can enjoy their 8K screens – by rendering the game at a lower resolution and upscaling to 8K. We will look into DLSS, Refresh rates and Frame Rates, Resolution, Field of view, Energy, and more. You can read part 2 here.

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