Resident Evil 7 at 4K: does resolution really matter?

The PC ultra HD experience takes on PS4 Pro's 1260p image.

By David Bierton. 3/02/2017

PlayStation 4 Pro's native 1260p rendering resolution for Resident Evil 7 turned out to be something of a surprise, representing a relatively slight 36 per cent uplift in pixel-count over the base PS4 version of the game. It's a curious choice for a console designed to service the new wave of ultra HD displays, and that led us to wonder - just how does the Pro mode compare to a full-fat 4K presentation? For a game with RE7's heavily stylised aesthetic, to what extent does a high native resolution actually matter?

Given the soft 'found-footage' nature of the game, there could be diminishing returns over higher pixel counts, with clarity and intricate detail masked by the heavy post-process pipeline. In many ways, RE7 produces an intentionally 'lo-fi' image, but on the flip-side, the boost in resolution could possibly flesh out more detail from the existing assets alongside greater precision in rendering effects - essentially keeping the film-like image intact while adding additional refinement to the core aesthetic.

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With Resident Evil 7 geared towards running at 60fps, one might assume that jumping from 1080p to 4K might not require ultra high-end hardware to get the job done, but that isn't the case here. A locked 60fps at max settings is somewhat off the table, but with an i7 paired with an overclocked Titan X Pascal it's possible to achieve a mostly solid 4K60 during more demanding scenes. And as it turns out, brute-forcing ultra HD resolution does indeed result in a considerable upgrade over the PS4 Pro's higher resolution mode, although the console version can hold up well in many scenarios - not a bad turn-out considering that our PC set-up is handing in a 2.9x increase in raw pixel-count.

The most immediate improvement in running at native 4K on PC comes with greater clarity across finer details, such as the leaves on trees, and across distant texture detail - which resolves more cleanly with the additional pixel precision available. Image quality also steps up a notch, with fewer rough edges across geometry providing a cleaner look compared to the upscaled presentation on PS4 Pro. However, overall expectations need to be managed here: Resident Evil 7 features a soft-focused look and even when running at 4K the game the game never features an ultra-sharp image one might expect from a 2160p resolution. Instead, intra-pixel clarity takes president over per-pixel sharpness when viewed on a 4K screen, while post-process effects work appears more refined and less intrusive, having less of an impact on clarity across the scene without compromising the found-footage aesthetic.

What's surprising here is just how well the PS4 Pro version holds up to the PC game in darker areas. Of course, image quality appears softer on Sony's machine due to the upscale, but detail levels are close, and the presentation still features a clean look that is rarely present with heavily upscaled imagery. This is down to Capcom's use of temporal anti-aliasing, which does a very good job of preventing visible artefacts across the scene, with additional softness the main downside in resizing the 1260p image to 4K. Clearly, resolution is less important in lower contrast scenes when backed up with a good anti-aliasing solution. It's not enough to convincingly deliver a faux-4K image, but does provide a noticeable boost over the standard 1080p offered by the base PS4.

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Of course, when you move to more vibrant locations or mid-brightness scenes, the benefits of the PC's native 4K image are more pronounced. The game appears sharper, with higher quality textures showing more nuanced detail up close, while various effects also take advantage of the additional pixel precision to deliver more refinement. For example, shadows feature more in the way of dither and light stair-steps on Pro, while on PC these effects look slightly smoother. Lighting buffers also resolve at a higher resolution, lacking the slightly soft haloing around characters during some cut-scenes. These differences are still present when running the PC game at 1080p, though the reduced pixel-precision means the effects don't stand out as much.