Nvidia Battlebox Insignia
The steady march of 4K into the mainstream continues, with more affordable 4K TVs and more 4K content gradually becoming available thanks to streaming services and top-end camcorders.
You might expect that the PS4 and Xbox One next-gen consoles would do 4K too, and you'd be right, but not entirely. 4K gaming is the PC's domain.
Next-gen consoles will play 4K video, but not 4K games
It has been confirmed that both the PS4 and Xbox One are capable of displaying 4K, but that it's currently limited to video content and photographs – not actual games. This is somewhat surprising for a pair of consoles that, if history is anything to go by, are designed to last almost 10 years (the Xbox 360 will be eight years old in November). The trouble is that, when it comes to demanding titles, there's a big question mark hanging over whether they even have the raw power to push 4K's 3840x2160 pixels, as you can read all about here.
Meanwhile, thanks to their upgradeability, gaming PCs are already capable of taking advantage of the new format - and now they're shouting about it too.
Battlebox bangs the 4K drum
Nvidia has just unveiled its plans to encourage PC gamers to upgrade to 4K with its 'Battlebox' seal of approval.
Gaming rigs equipped with Nvidia's top-end GeForce GTX 780 or GTX Titan graphics boards in 2- or 3-way configurations and paired with overclocked Intel Haswell Core i5 or i7 processors will be proudly marked up with the company's new 'Battlebox' branding. These are then sold with 4K displays to show off exactly what they can do.
Nvidia says Battleboxes will churn 45-60 frames per second at 4K at top detail setting, and with all the graphical bells and whistles such as TXAA anti-aliasing enabled. The current lineup of 4K-capable games include Watch_Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Batman: Arkham Origins.
But do we actually need 4K games on a TV?
4k 1080p comparison
We'd be happy if the new hardware let games developers really push the depth of their games rather than just the surface sheen; certainly, improved AI and more extensive virtual worlds are what the console makers are championing. After all, at the heart of a great game is a great story.
The difference is, PC gaming enthusiasts get up close and personal with their monitors and enjoy the bragging rights that an extra frame per second or two over their companions' machines bring, so 4K provides real benefits. For console gaming, where we currently almost always make do with 720p graphics (which provide half the pixels of 1080p full HD, and one eighth those of 4K) on screens several feet away, it's that bit less important.
It wasn't always this way
At launch, the Xbox 360 (2005) and Sony PS3 (2006) were at the forefront of game graphics, and boasted the sort of specs that got PC gamers drooling. The Xbox 360's bespoke 3-core 3.2GHz PowerPC chip and the PS4's 8-core Cell processor really turned heads.
Now, in 2013, as their x86 architecture is cut from mid-range PC cloth, these compact, stylish (ish) boxes can't compete with the plus-sized electronics, nuclear-class cooling systems and national grid-straining energy consumption of the very best PCs. To put it bluntly, the PS4 and Xbox One aren't at the forefront of gaming tech, at least in graphical terms. But hey, at least you can afford one.
It's always going to be harder to generate 4K video on the fly – as is required for games – rather than just playing it. Pushing that many pixels through all those little electronic pipes was never going to be easy. That's why the 4K gaming PCs are so ludicrously expensive.
A 4K enabled PC for example, with its 4.5GHz i7 processor, 32GB of RAM, 250GB SSD and more it will set you back $8000. And that's just for the PC – you'll still need the 4K monitor. Let's throw in the 31.5in Asus PQ321Q – which is estimated to be around $4400. If you've got any change left over you might think about adding a keyboard and mouse to that too.
Around $12,000 is a lot of money. Considering the PS4 will be around $720 and you'll already have a TV to play it on, that's quite a jump. That 4K gaming PC on its own is over 10 times the price of the PS4. Just think of all the games you could buy instead.
The future of 4K gaming?
PCs may well be the future of 4K gaming, but is 4K really the future of gaming?
Perhaps not until the next generation of next-gen consoles arrives - or, of course, their completely hardware-free, cloud gaming equivalent. That could take a while.