I spend a lot of time on the internet, pretty much all day every day, and one thing I tend to see a lot of is people confusng 4K screen resolution with 4K Texture Resolution. I’m here to clarify for those people that those two things are not the same, and even if you understand the difference, then I’m here to tell you that you don’t need 4K screen resolution to see 4K textures, though they do benefit from one another.
Screen resolution, one of the big talking points for todays console war. In 2013 it was 1080p or full HD and alternatively referred to as 1K. Now it’s 4K or ultra HD. Screen resolution is how clear the image is. Thirty years ago in the age of 240p/360p/480p everything looked just fine. But there was always this fuzz on the screen. Once high definition became a thing, that fuzz was magically gone and any rough edges in the image were naturally removed. The image is clearer now than it was before. You can see more and see farther.
The above image obviously isn’t from a video game, but I’m going to use it for comparisons sake because it does a half-decent job of illustrating the visual differences. Standard definitions like 240p, 360p, and 480p were blurry. We never realized it at the time because it was the best at the time, but now we can see it for what it is. Jumping up to 720p, the image gets clearer. Still some blur, but significantly better. 720p was the first high definition resolution. A stepping stone to 1080p which is considered true HD. The screen is very clear and you can make out small details without any problems. However, when you compare 1080p to 4K, you notice that 1080p isn’t quite perfect. It’s clear, that’s a fact, but when it comes to the most minute of details, there’s still a bit of blur, which 4K completely clears up. You can see the stitching on a piece of clothing or the pores of someones skin. It’s a bit excessive to be honest.
When you look at a shiny new trailer for a game or crisp screenshots, what is the first thing you see? You probably said pretty graphics and you’d be correct. But what you’re really looking at is a model made of thousands of polygons with various maps thrown over it to make it look like how you see it in the game. The last layer, the one that gives it detail, is the texture resolution. Textures are essentially images that are thrown over top of a model like a coat. Sometimes they fit perfectly and other times they don’t fit at all. Sometimes they’re made out of the finest materials, and sometimes they’re just a cheap knock-off. The size of a texture dictates its quality. A low resolution texture, which is anything below 1024x1024, is what you would see in games from the seventh generation(Xbox 360 and PS3) and down. These low resolution textures were often blurry with minimal amounts of detail to get across to you what they were. Textures that were clean and simple often looked better than their more detailed counterparts at the same size because there wasn’t anything to really blur.
Sitting at the top are the high resolution textures(1024x1024(1K), 2048x2048(2K), 4096x4096(4K), and 8192x8192(8K)). The higher the resolution, the clearer the texture and the more minor details you could add. As an example, a now impossible to find dragon texture mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offerred a variety of levels to choose from based on what your system could handle and the differences were as plain as day. If you wanted performance you went with 2K. If you didn’t care about performance you went with 4K. And if your computer had a death wish you went with 8K. The differences between them were staggering. A 2K dragon looked a lot better than vanilla Skyrim dragons. The texture wasn’t stretched in the slightest. If you bumped up to 4K, suddenly you had a lot of scales and the wings actually looked leathery. Moving up to 8K intensified this as a lot more detail was packed into this large texture. Luckily that texture was only applied to one-off dragons like Alduin. But enough of me explaining, I found a video with the mod that will show you the difference that a 4K texture can make.
It’s astound the kind of detail that you can get in Skyrim with a little tinkering.
4K screen resolution is best used with games running high definition textures because the whole point of a clearer image is to bring out the details you miss at lower resolutions. If the game or movie you’re watching likes minute details, then the 4K resolution is wasted. Likewise, 4K and 8K textures, while perfectly fine for viewing on a 1080p display due to the fact they make everything looks 10x better, can benefit from a 4K resolution because that added clarity allows you to more easily see those smaller details like very fine engravings on the blade or hilt of a sword.
So to finish off, screen resolution and texture resolution are NOT the same thing nor are 4K textures exclusive to a 4K display. However, when combined the two can provide an unprecedented visual experience. Sad that it takes multiple GPU’s to run the latest games at 4K60. Microsoft is gonna need to pull a rabbit out of a hat to pull that off with the Scorpio.