PC Specialist Nvidia Battlebox
There's a pretty major omission from Sony and Microsoft's new consoles: proper 4K gaming. Both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 will include support for ultra-HD media files, but with even 1080p gaming appearing to be a struggle, playing in 4K is a big no-no.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, PCs are one step ahead of the game (pun totally intended), and Nvidia's leading the charge with Battlebox, basically a badge that system builders can slap on gaming PCs that contain two-to-three GTX 780 or GTX Titan graphics cards running in parallel.
This is the current pinnacle of gaming power, and the price reflects that, so bless PC Specialist for supplying us with not only a £3,900 twin-Titan Battlebox machine, but also a£3000 Asus 4K monitor for testing. So just how good is 4K gaming? We're about to find out.
In That Case
Cooler Master Cosmos 2 case
Swinging side panels on the Cooler Master Cosmos 2 case
Nvidia GeForce GTX Graphics in PC Specialist Battlebox
PC Specialist Battlebox - Cooler Master Cosmos 2 case
The Cooler Master Cosmos 2 case PC Specialist's build arrived in is a whopper, approximately the same size and shape as the U.S.S. Sulaco. It's so heavy that we needed to employ three burly men to get it on our scales - so you won't be taking this to any LAN parties unless you're of herculean build. It's incredibly well-built, though, with sliding panels over the power button and USB ports, and another that covers the Blu-ray drive and hard drive hot ports.
It's easy to access the innards, too - a latch secures the side panels, and on pressing this they swing open like the doors of a BMW. Inside PC Specialist has equipped the processor with a Corsair liquid CPU cooler, which links to fans at the top of the case with a pair of rubber hoses. It's one of the best cases we've come across, and despite its imposing size, it looks the part plus it's packed with cool and useful features.
4K content on the Asus PQ321 monitor
Asus PQ321 4K monitor
Asus PQ321 4K monitor
We also blagged an Asus PQ321 monitor to test with the system. Like the case it's absolutely gargantuan, with its 31.5-inch size putting it in the same league as your average TV. It's also 4K, so it packs more pixels than there are atoms in the universe. Or something.
As expected the picture quality is incredible, viewing angles are great and it's as bright as a thousand suns. It's an additional £3,000, although the price will drop as other manufacturers start pumping out 4K panels.
Batman: Arkham Origins on PC Specialist Battlebox
Batman's latest adventure, Arkham Origins, provided the perfect test for our new uber-PC. It comes complete with Battlebox endorsement, and by golly it looks all kinds of wonderful. With all the settings maxed-out Batman really comes to life in a way that's actually better than 3D.
Everything looks so clean, and neat little touches from Nvidia's PhysX, such as billowing flags and cloths, add a lovely little does of detail and realism. One exception is Nvidia's own Temporal Anti-Aliasing, which bizarrely resulted in a drop in frame rates. However, it's arguable that anti-aliasing isn't even needed with such incredibly high resolutions.
Grid 2 and Skyrim in 4K
Grid 2 on the PC Specialist Battlebox
Grid 2 could be similarly maxed-out, with the instant replays mocking our appalling driving in full 4K glory. Skyrim's pseudo-Scandinavian world looks amazing, too - despite being almost two years old, upping Tamriel's draw distances so you can see the lie of the land is still breathtaking.
It's an astonishing way to see the game worlds you know and love, and it's reassuring if you've forked out such a huge amount of money to know that the consoles are never going to reach this sheer level of fidelity.
Just for the LOLs, we decided to boot up the original Half-Life to see how it looked in absurd resolutions. Somewhat bizarrely, it didn't load up at all, giving us the same error we received a very long time ago when we were running it on Windows 98. Spooky indie game Limbo also failed to run.
We're guessing that this is down to the incredible resolution and the inability of various game engines to understand all the pixels and what to do with them. 4K gaming is something of a rarity at the moment (the panel we tested is said to be the only one of its kind in the country), but we're sure developers will retrofit their engines to work with the software.
Adobe Premiere Pro on the PC Specialist Battlebox
We don't just play games all the time - we also have to do a bit of video editing once every 10 years. Adobe's Premiere Pro was duly installed and fired up on PC Specialist's rig, and on poking about in a 4K media file we experienced absolutely no lag, and thanks to the SSD and 32GB of RAM it rendered in very little time. Photoshop was also able to handle truly huge images without any problems. It' as useful for media work as it is for gaming.
4K Blu-rays aren't really a thing yet (unless you're mates with Sony) so we had to make do with the handful of ultra-HD movie files currently doing the rounds on YouTube. We chose one about Australia and it looked so absurdly stunning that we were tempted to fire up the barbie right there in our office. Blu-rays upscale rather nicely, although it's a bit annoying that support for the discs isn't built into Windows 8.1.
The Asus panel has got built-in speakers, but seriously, don't ever use them. We've experienced better sound quality from mobile phones. If you're going to be spending this much on a rig we'd hope you've got enough to add a decent set of 7.1 surround speakers, too, and coupled with the screen and the inbuilt Asus Xonar soundcard you'll be in media heaven.
Despite the soundproofing of the Cooler Master case it does get a little loud thanks to the sheer number of fans lurking within, especially when you fire up an intense game or benchmark. It's a lot quieter when you're just pottering about in Windows, though, and such a large experience demands the volume turned up to 11 anyway.
Google Chrome browser on the Asus 4K PQ321 monitor
Windows 8.1 cursor on the Asus 4K PQ321 monitor
Somewhat preposterously Microsoft really didn't see 4K coming, and our previous experiences of Windows 8 ultra-HD screens have given us a normal-sized cursor (which is tiny on a 4K screen) and weird menu and dialogue box resizing. Thankfully, Windows 8.1 fixes a lot of this, giving us a cursor so resplendent in pixels that we spent about an hour admiring it. The dialogue boxes are still a bit all over the place, though, with some filling the screen and others being almost uselessly tiny.
The biggest let-down in this department is Google's Chrome browser, which, despite its huge popularity, just doesn't understand 4K screens. Text is horribly jagged and aliased, images are packed with artifacts, and tabs and menu systems just don't work. Rebooting it in Windows mode is actually hilarious, with your favourite websites reduced to a slither in the middle of the screen. Thankfully Firefox works a lot better, but it lacks Chrome's wonderful syncing and cloud-based features. Overall the experience is good, though, and the incredible definition makes up for these occasional oddities.
Nvidia Battlebox by PC Specialist verdict
PC Specialist's Battlebox is going to be out of the price range of 99 per cent of the population, but as a proof of concept it works wonderfully. We already knew 4K movies were brilliant, but gaming in 4K is a revelation, and one that finally consigns 3D to the digital scrapheap.
For pricing reasons one of the next-gen consoles and its 1080p (or lower) graphics are going to have to do for now, but in a year or two 4K PC gaming could be a viable proposition for plenty of gamers. It may be best not to rush though, once you've had a taste of the 4K gaming cake you're really not going to want to go back to Full HD.
PC Specialist Nvidia GTX Titan Battlebox reviewA taste of the future which has left us hungry for more. And while it's hugely expensive, a mere glimpse of modern games in high-definition is mind-blowing.
PC Specialist Nvidia Battlebox