Tech Analysis: Destiny beta on Xbox One

900p vs 1080p on the Microsoft console - plus a look at the updated PS4 code.

With a clear visual divide between Destiny's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 beta builds, both versions nevertheless come out looking very respectable indeed. A locked 30fps is a core mandate for each platform, it seems, and with the Xbox One release open for access since Wednesday, it's clear this version is no exception. However, with resolution currently locked at 900p for this Xbox One build - and 1080p being targeted for release - are there any other sacrifices being made to suit this console's more restrictive specs?

Scalability is at the heart of Bungie's new in-house Destiny engine, but the good news is that it appears that no major alterations are made from the PS4 release to accommodate Microsoft's platform. Sparing the resolution downgrade to 900p, the Xbox One beta handles its lighting, shadow rendering, and even level of detail scaling at the exact same grade of quality as Sony's newest platform. No nips, no tucks. Having pored over the introductory cut-scene set outside Old Russia's walls, and compared long views across the Steppes area, any contrasts we see stem only from shifts in the game's day-night cycle.

Of course, the difference between the current 1600x900 throughput on Xbox One and the full 1920x1080 on PS4 is perceptible, even through the heavy FXAA post-process anti-aliasing in effect on both. When it comes to broad overviews of Destiny's landscapes, a degree of clarity is compromised the further afield we look. It never affects gameplay on Microsoft's platform; enemies always remain visible on the horizon. However, it does manifest across foliage and high-frequency normal mapping past a certain distance, both suffering from the additional upscale. Put side-by-side, the Xbox One produces slightly fuzzier detailing on these elements, though the actual quality of textures - and filtering - is a complete match between the two.

But before we go on, there's one very important question we need to address. Is any comparison from the beta relevant at all when Bungie has already stated its intention to run the final Xbox One release of Destiny at full 1080p, matching its PlayStation 4 counterpart? Will that increase in resolution come at the detriment of anything else? While the additional 10 per cent of rendering resources afforded by the recent Kinect-unbundling XDK update are welcome, it does not offer up enough GPU horsepower to bridge the gap between 900p and 1080p rendering.

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The 1600x900 resolution of the current Xbox One beta build causes an interpolating effect across some trees in the distance. PS4 resolves more detail in the far distance, but we need to bear in mind that our 1080p source is from a compressed video here whereas the 900p and PS4 grabs come from a lossless source.

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Up close, bump-mapping is equivalent between Xbox One and PS4, as is the vignetting effect around the edges of the screen.

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The HUD design is altered on PS4, adding a three-dimensional curve to health and ammo counters, plus a chromatic aberration effect. Far-off mountain detail seems to show a PS4 advantage even over the 1080p Xbox game. However, we have to stress that the only source for 1080p Xbox One imagery comes from a compressed video, here being compared to lossless captures.

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Equally, we see shadow quality is a match around harsher directional lights - and lighting tricks such as lens flare and bloom are a feature for both consoles.

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Even in its beta form, Destiny is a looker on both PS4 and Xbox One. Our overview of the Mothyards shows no difference in terms of lighting or draw distance.

Destiny's 1080p upgrade may not be in the beta code, but it does indeed exist, and IGN recently posted a short video showing it in action. By matching select stills from this footage, we see the gap in image quality is mostly bridged when compared with the PS4's output - tree details, in particular, now appearing crisp rather than interpolated. Some far-off, intricate detail isn't quite so well defined, but this may well be down to the fact that the 1080p images are resolved from compressed video. We chose shots that were as static as possible in order to reduce compression artefacts - but only lossless captures will show the full picture.

If Bungie can pull off the resolution increase without any compromise on the beta code release this week, we should be looking at full platform parity between Xbox One and PlayStation 4. When comparing the constituent parts of the world design, everything remains precisely the same - from Bungie's beautiful, full resolution skybox, to the ripped, cloth-physics-affected flags. Even the approach to shadows is identical, with a likewise cascade, and a faint dithering across spot-lit silhouettes behind characters.

But even in the Xbox One's improved 1080p build, one nit-pick stands out between the next-gen consoles; a change to the HUD. On PS4 we see a three-dimensional curved display for ammo and health gauges, backed by a chromatic aberration after-effect. The Xbox One, meanwhile, adopts the flat designs also laid across the last-gen versions' screens, delivered without the extra visual twist. This is obviously a minuscule detail in the grand scheme of what the game achieves, and largely comes down to personal preference.

Destiny's beta campaign missions show a rock-solid, v-synced 30fps on both PS4 and Xbox One. Even in the hectic multiplayer mode, as appended to the end of this video, the engine runs perfectly.

And while a performance analysis of Xbox One running at full 1080p is out of reach for now, we can at least see how adeptly it holds 30fps while running at the beta-standard 900p. Starting at the opening cut-scene and ending on the Last Array mission, there's rarely a drop to report from one end to the other. This holds true for multiplayer tests on both PS4 and Xbox One as well, with a 6v6 game on the Shores of Time stage never missing a beat.

For the campaign side, the Xbox One stutters only fleetingly during an early shoot-out in the Restoration mission. But in line with the PS4, it's otherwise a smooth, fully v-synced 30fps game during every other battle. The only other nit-pick is a brief stutter during fast travel with the Sparrow. In our synchronized test we see a level streaming hiccup occurring between the Steppes and Mothyards areas, curiously affecting the PS3 and PS4 versions in the exact same spot.

Meanwhile, the unleashing of the Xbox One beta coincides with some good news for PS4 owners. As reported in our earlier hands-on, the PS4 beta ran with a frame-pacing issue that impacted the smoothness of the game in motion. A perfectly smooth 30fps game will deliver each frame every 33ms - but the earlier code could see them arrive at 16ms, 33ms or even 50ms time intervals, resulting in stutter and the feeling that the game was running at a lower, less consistent frame-rate. However, both versions are beneficiaries of a patch - effective as of the beta's return on Wednesday - that corrects the issue. Simply put, Bungie's engineers have forced the engine to output one unique frame followed by one duplicate, producing an even 30fps experience throughout with no stuttering.

Success! The PS4 version before and after the latest patch version 1.02, solving the frame-pacing issue that once caused stuttering. The divots above and below the 30fps line are clear to see on the older footage, while a fully updated PS4 game gives a perfectly straight 30fps read-out.

Natasha Tatarchuk, graphics engineer at Bungie, kindly took the time to send a statement on the matter our way. "This was a known issue, and we were happy to get it fixed in time for the rest of beta, and for the shipping game. The game now dynamically manages how quickly we flip the frame-to-display to get smooth frame-rate with optimally low latency at all times. In other words, it's buttery smooth."

Having played the game extensively before and after the patch, motion is indeed perceptibly improved. And while the PS3 and Xbox 360 beta releases still lack the updated code, its appearance on both Xbox One and PS4 strongly suggests a last-gen fix will appear by Destiny's official launch.

All in all, it's a very encouraging scenario. Both next-gen consoles run at the same levels of world detail in this early build, with Xbox One also a match for the PS4's stable frame-rate. The only bug-bear is the 900p versus 1080p differential, where the PS4 benefits from a clearer image. However, based on footage released of the 1080p Xbox One build so far, this is to be corrected with no apparent sacrifices to visuals elsewhere. Where performance is concerned, we'll have to see nearer release whether this 1080p playback is achieved with no impact to the game's smooth, consistent frame-rate.

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