UPDATE: Resolutions Are Not Just for New Year.

UPDATE:  It has been confirmed by Mark Rubin from Infinity Ward that the Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts runs at 720p, whilst the PS4 version runs at 1080p.


ORIGINAL:  Much has been made of the speculation last week that Playstation 4 will run Call of Duty: Ghosts in full HD (1080p) following an IGN preview event, which seems to be confirmed by the listing for the game on the PSN store.  Then came ‘confirmation’ from a number of sources within the industry on Twitter that Xbox One would only run certain games at 720p:


The smoking gun according to some speculators though, is that Microsoft have neither confirmed nor denied the rumour, with one Microsoft employee connected to Xbox One simply stating:

Which is a fair comment, but not the confirmation of output resolution that the public now demands.  There’s an adage in my industry worth remembering, which states “if it’s not written down, it isn’t true’.

Now let me set out my stall; I’m not here to speculate on the veracity of these snippets, but someone asked me the other day if it really matters if the Xbox One will only output some games in 720p?  Please be clear, I’m no Xbox fan boy looking to justify my decision to pre-order this particlular flavour of console (full disclosure, I have a PS4 on pre-order); for the past decade I’ve been a professional scientist and this is a look at some of the science behind screen resolution and how you perceive it to add informed opinion to the 1080p vs 720p debate.

Based on the work of Dr. Hermann Snellen, who was also responsible for this:


We know that we can calculate the optimal viewing distance (VD) of a screen of any given diagonal size (DS) in inches, if we know the native horizontal and vertical resolution of that screen (NHR and NVR) and the horizontal resolution of the content being displayed (CVR) in pixels, or the more catchy:

VD = CS /((SQRT(((NHR/NVR)^2)+1))*CVR*TAN(1/60))

So using this equation with fixed native resolution of 1080p I have calculated the optimal viewing distance for a range of screen sizes for media being displayed at 720p and 1080p:

Codec Moments Optimal Viewing Distances

But what does this really mean to you?

Draw a line up from the bottom axis depicting the size of your TV and a line across from the right, showing how far you sit from the screen when you’re gaming/viewing (actually, please don’t draw on your screen.. imagine the lines).  If the point at which they cross is in the shaded zone, then you should be able to notice the difference between output at 1080p and that at 720p.

The interesting question is, how many of us will really notice this?  I have a 40″ television but when sat on my sofa, I am around 8′ from it so can’t actually tell the difference between 720p and 1080p.

Regulations in the UK state that a living room should not be smaller than around 12 feet by 12 feet, couple that with OFCOM figures which show that the majority of televisions sold in the UK have screens smaller than 42″ and it is reasonable to speculate that a great deal of people won’t be able to notice the difference either.  That said, the percentage of 43″ or larger sets in increasing year on year and it’s reasonable to assume that people who are willing to spend hundreds of pounds on a console, are also willing to spend on a larger screen to enjoy it on; our straw poll of gamers on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ indicated an average screen size of 45″.

TV sales figures by screen size

Saying that screen resolution alone is the only measure of image quality is a dramatic oversimplification; dynamic light and polygon count are two of a myriad of factors, but there is a less significant visual enhancement between current and next gen owing to diminishing returns from increasing polygon count as seen below:


The real benefit of the next generation will be the increased computing power which will allow developers far greater resources to produce games that look great and play well, a point that I feel the more militant gamers miss.  Whilst graphical improvements are desirable, I want to play the game; people talk about immersion in a game, but when you are truly immersed (deeply mentally involved) you will suffer a degree of in-attentional blindness as shown in the famous experiment below.

With limitations on graphical output, it’s possible to use this selective attention to your advantage; as evidenced by the recent hit Killzone: Mercenary on the Playstation Vita.  In this game the  dynamic resolution system was Guerilla’s Gorilla walking through the scene.  When you are stood still in the game, the native resolution is maintained allowing frame-rate to drop; when you are moving it allows a reduction in resolution to maintain frame-rate.  This means that you can see the image quality when you are most likely to observe it (i.e. stood still, taking screenshots etc.) but that the frame-rate is maintained when you are moving and shooting and the key thing is, you don’t even notice when you’re playing… selective attention.

We are at the start of a new console generation and I suspect that developers will find the tricks and tweaks for the different flavours of console faster than ever before, ensuring parity, so we shouldn’t really be worried if a few games run at a resolution that’s not discernibly distinguishable for the majority; of course we gamers are fickle beasts and this will just be another weapon in the arsenal for the ongoing fanboy wars.

My advice as a gamer and professional scientist is thus:  If your TV is so big and/or your room small enough that it makes a difference, then yes, consider your choice of console at launch carefully.  If not, get the one your friends are going to be on 😉


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Former DJ, now a freelance scientist, writer, gamer and father.


  1. Axe99 October 31, 2013 4:20 am  Reply

    It deffo makes a difference to me – I game on a 32″ screen hooked up to a PC and PS3 at the moment, and a 360 in the past. The easiest way to tell the difference is to adjust PC game resolution settings – there’s a noticeable increase in detail when you adjust from 720p to 1080p, and I’ll usually take the framerate hit to get higher resolution, as I tend to play slower-paced games and I likes me some eye-candy.

    You can do this with a console as well – you can force it to output at 720p – while most console games are 720p (or lower) the interfaces are generally 1080p – just play with the settings and see if you can tell the difference. It’s by no means unplayable at 720p, but enthusiast video games fans can generally tell the difference, and generally speaking they’re the kind of people that jump on board at the start of a console generation.

    • Andy October 31, 2013 7:10 am  Reply

      Thanks for your feedback Axe99. Out of interest, how close to the screen are you when playing?

      • Axe99 October 31, 2013 7:17 am  Reply

        No worries, thanks for your article :). Distance was a little over 6 foot/2 metres, I can get the tape measure out if you want an exact distance. My eyesight’s average, not great, not terrible.

        • Andy October 31, 2013 7:27 am  Reply

          No need to break out the tape measure on my account; at that distance with a 32″ screen, you would expect to gain some benefit from increasing the resolution above 720p. It’s good to hear people’s actual experience though, as I’m sure that many more factors come into play (eyesight, quality of the screen, lighting).

    • Dave October 31, 2013 4:32 pm  Reply

      I have a PC and PS3, and will be definitely getting a PS4 this Xmas, so no worries here, I will be getting 1080p on Killzone , BF4, COD Ghosts, FIFA, Resogun, etc… on my beautiful big screen TV 🙂

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