How Much Does 1080p vs 720p Really Matter?

This is like the third time I’ve talked about resolutions on this blog but people still seem to be going on about it: each new release on PS4 and Xbox One scrutinized over how many pixels they can push and how frequently they can push an image to the TV. Well, it’s only recently that I’ve actually gotten around to “comparing” the way 720p looks on my TV compared to 1080p.

A while ago I did an update on how Xbox 360 and PS3 games kind of lose their luster when played on my then-new 1080p screen (with me sitting right up against a 46” screen mind you). Recently I realized since upgrading my new PC I hadn’t played a single 720p game and had pretty much acclimated to native 1080p, which still looks unusually clean to me. The only console game I’ve played recently is Gran Turismo 6 which is more or less 1080p. Upon finally installing demos of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD into my PS3 I expected to finally resolve that I couldn’t live with 720p anymore.

Not quite. Maybe it’s because I’m unusually tolerant of the graphics of older games, but I can still deal with 720p gaming even in this age of “resolutiongates,” though it’s definitely not optimal. Really it feels like playing any game from previous console generations in eras of newer hardware on modern displays.

I remember when the PS3 was new people complained about how PS2 games looked like a jagged mess on HD displays but I was fine with it then. Compared to my current PC the outgoing consoles definitely feel like inferior machines that will soon be repurposed for nostalgia gaming, but enjoyable nostalgia gaming nonetheless. Even newer games on the outgoing consoles feel fine because the experience of those machines has been so optimized over the years. Then again, eventually I couldn’t stand to look at PS2 games on HD displays so maybe that effect will set in for PS3 and 360 games too after I’ve spent enough years playing 1080p games. Overall though, these “resolutiongate” discussions are valid in my opinion. Film buffs do the same thing — scrutinizing the transfer of every new Blu-Ray that comes out.

What this is really all about though isn’t just the number of pixels you have onscreen, it’s about native resolutions. I’m still perfectly fine playing handheld games right now even though they run at lower resolutions because that’s usually the native resolution of the handheld’s screen. Picture scaling looks blurred because it’s running a resolution that doesn’t match your display, so you see compromises in the image. 1080p isn’t just an optimal number — it’s what most people’s TVs are now.

That distinction is creating some odd situations with PC ports. Some people wonder why PC gamers got so angry upon hearing Dark Souls or Metal Gear Rising would be locked at 720p and even 1080p respectively. That’s because scaling on PC monitors looks much worse than on TVs. PC games really need to just unlock resolutions because of all the variance in monitor sizes. 1080p isn’t even optimum in PC gaming anymore because a lot of people have moved onto 1440p (2560 x 1440) monitors, and will soon move onto 4K. Don’t even get me started with downsampling.


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